CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Hertfordshire Life today CLICK HERE

A winter star: the life and times of the robin, the nation’s favourite bird

PUBLISHED: 14:10 17 December 2015


With its radiant red breast and beautiful song, the robin is synonymous with the festive season. Josh Kubale, of the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust, looks at the life and times of the nation’s favourite bird

Robins are one of Britain’s most familiar and ubiquitous birds and can be seen throughout Hertfordshire year-round as regular visitors to our gardens, parks and allotments.

The nations’ favourite

Since the 1960s, the European robin (Erithacus rubecula) has been Britain’s unofficial national bird. In a vote this year, the robin beat the barn owl, blackbird and wren to be crowned the nation’s favourite. The poll of our top 10 favourite birds, organised by ornithologist and BBC Springwatch presenter, David Lindothe, saw more than 200,000 people cast their votes. The robin won a commanding victory with 34 per cent of the vote.

Christmas bird

Since Victorian times, the robin has been closely associated with Christmas. Victorian postmen, who often worked over Christmas and even delivered presents and cards on Christmas Day, wore red tunics as part of their uniform and were nicknamed ‘robin redbreasts’ after the birds. The association earned the robin a place on early Christmas cards and so started the popular festive trend.

Male or female?

Unlike most bird species, male and female robins are identical – both have thecharacteristic red breasts and brown wings. However, robins are not born with red breasts. When juveniles fledge from the nest they are mottled brown all over and don’t get their distinctive red breasts until they are about six months old. Both parents take responsibility when feeding and looking after their chicks until they are two weeks old when the young can fly and become fully independent.

Singing star

The robin has a distinctive and beautiful call. Robins will sing year-round, apart from a short period in late summer when they are moulting. During spring, the male robin will call to attract a mate while during winter both male and female robins will sing to mark their territory. Robins are often active in half-light when few other birds are about and tend to be among the earliest birds to start the dawn chorus and one of the last to stop singing in the evening. In urban landscapes, robins can be confused by streetlights and sing regularly at night.

Town & country

The robin’s natural habitat is woodland but the species has adapted to live in parks and residential gardens where the structure provided by garden plants provides both nesting and roosting opportunities. Perhaps the greatest asset of urban living is the abundance of food provided by people. Robins are inquisitive and will often watch gardeners at work digging, hoping to pick up a worm or titbit in freshly-turned soil.

Keep off my patch

Robins are highly territorial birds and during the winter will defend feeding opportunities in gardens against almost any other bird that comes close. That bright red breast is their prime territorial marker. Research has shown that robins will even attack toys with red breasts such is their overwhelming instinct to see off rivals to their patch. While singing reaches a peak as the breeding season approaches around March time, robins will sing throughout the year to mark their territories.

Feeding our 
winter birds

During winter it can be hard for robins and other birds to find natural sources of food. We can help birds that visit our gardens during the season by putting out food and water for them. The provision of supplementary food has been shown to improve overwinter survival in a number of species. In winter, birds require high-energy foods to maintain fat reserves to survive the frosty nights. A good mix of food such as black sunflower seeds, sunflower hearts, niger seed and peanuts will provide them with the energy they need. It’s important to balance the amount of food left out against the number of birds coming in to feed. To avoid unwanted viistors such as rats, try not to leave uneaten food out. Also make sure feeders are clean, to guard against infection to birds.


Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Hertfordshire visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Hertfordshire staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Hertfordshire account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

More from Out & About

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

We quiz author Kevin Exley about his new book that takes the reader on the trail of fascinating stories, new and old, around Berkhamsted

Read more
October 2018
Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Don’t miss the November issue of Hertfordshire Life - out now!

Read more
Monday, October 29, 2018

Hertfordshire is a county with a vast, fascinating and sometimes dark and bloody history that has reportedly lead to more than a few angry ghosts sticking around to wreak havoc and take revenge on the living. We have gathered 10 of the most haunted places in the county

Read more
Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Make the most out of autumn with these eight walking routes that take in a variety of Hertfordshire’s terrains and - most importantly – have a cosy pub along the way

Read more
Tuesday, October 16, 2018

We've selected a variety of spooky activities in the county that are sure to delight the kids

Read more
Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Christmas isn’t complete without a trip to a festive fair. From German-style food stalls to vintage fetes, Hertfordshire’s Christmas markets have it all

Read more
Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust’s Charlotte Hussey explores the fascinating world of bats and new projects in the county to help conserve these remarkable creatures

Read more
October 2018
Tuesday, September 11, 2018

The People’s Trust for Endangered Species is asking the public to look out for mammals on Hertfordshire’s roads as part of a citizen science project

Read more
September 2018
Tuesday, September 11, 2018

From stately homes to skateparks, we have selected some of the best ideas for things to do in Hertfordshire

Read more
Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The diverse parkland of Pishiobury Park in Sawbridgeworth is undergoing a five-year plan to promote its heritage and enhance its habitats. It makes for a royal day out

Read more
September 2018

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Local Business Directory

Search For a Car In Your Area

Property Search