Think you know about robins? Think again!

PUBLISHED: 07:49 04 February 2014 | UPDATED: 14:48 02 November 2015




With its plump crimson breast and sumptuous song, its endearing boldness and long-standing association with the Yuletide season, the robin is among our most familiar and most cherished birds.

With its plump crimson breast and sumptuous song, its endearing boldness and long-standing association with the Yuletide season, the robin is among our most familiar and most cherished birds. Characterised as the loveable ‘Robin Redbreast’, with an amiable nature and a pleasing predilection for perching cheekily atop gardeners’ forks and bringing a warm splash of colour to the snowy winter landscape of many a Christmas card, it’s hardly an exaggeration to say that this charismatic little bird has earned its rightful place in the nation’s heart as well as its folklore. However, when it comes to our perceptions of other species, we humans – even the most rational, reasoning and liberal-minded of us – often let our hearts rule our heads, romanticising or demonising at the drop of a hat and for the flimsiest of reasons. All too frequently, such stereotyping results in unjustified enmity, even outright persecution. But for the robin, things seem to have worked in reverse, as our cosy rose-tinted notions have elevated this bird to the status of national treasure. But these birds are no more deserving of our adoration than other creatures are of our bitter scorn, and in the case of the robin it would seem that we have been well and truly hoodwinked.

Far from being favourably disposed towards humans, as we like to think, robins merely see us as an easy source of food, especially when we’re digging in the garden, conveniently unearthing a steady supply of juicy, wriggling worms. And far from having a friendly disposition, robins are both fiercely territorial and savagely aggressive, unwilling to tolerate another male in their territory and more than willing to violently attack, even kill, any transgressor. Consequently, when brazenly belting out their sensuous song from a prominent perch or the handle of a garden spade, they are, like all birds, either directly soliciting for sex from a passing female or belligerently asserting their territorial rights to a rival male – or both.

Curiously, the robin’s rapturously beautiful melody, undoubtedly among the finest of all our birds, is not only delivered all year round, but sometimes also in the dead of night. Fooled into thinking it is daytime, these hapless birds will sing their hearts out under the neon glare of our streetlights, even into the early hours, and in the depths of winter there can be fewer more warming spectacles to greet those of us who are late to bed or early to rise.

Robins seem to have quite a knack for lifting our spirits and stirring our emotions. There is clearly nothing wrong with having an emotional response to these birds and, as social animals ourselves, such responses are a part of our own evolutionary heritage.

However, for the sake of those unfortunate species that seem only to have earned our snarling contempt, it is important to be aware that our perceptions of other creatures – our likes and our dislikes as well as our loves and our loathings – often have very little to do with fact.



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