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 Robin - Fact File
Erithacus rubecula
Widespread and common resident. Continental birds also pass through on passage, particuarly on the east coast.
Woods, hedgerows, parks and gardens.

One of our most familiar birds. Even without seeing the red breast, can be told by it's distinctive plump shape. Sings throughout most of the year, and regularly at night (when sometimes confused with nightingale).

14 cm (5.5")


Daily visits by greenfinches to our peanut containers in the garden have meant anxious times for the resident robin.

As is well known, the robin is pugnacious, fighting with its own kind and attacking other birds. Yet in the most furious bouts against the local greenfinches, with feathers ruffled and wings dropped like a gamecock, he continues singing his challenges.

Initial attacks between rival robins usually involve striking the opponent single blows with feet and wings, or bowling it off a perch. But as fighting develops, both adversaries begin rolling over and over on the ground, before fluttering face to face while striking with legs then tumbling to the ground interlocked.

Each robin then attempts to pin its rival to the ground. The victor rains blows down on the vanquished bird's head particularly around the eyes even blinding or killing it.

The majority of fights last less than a minute before the loser (almost always the intruder) flees. But some encounters continue off and on for an hour or more and exceptionally over several days.

In the event of a prolonged contest the fighting alternates with rapid pursuits, outbursts of song, threat displays and even bouts of foraging. The final loser wisely terminates a particularly aggressive encounter with a rapid retreat.

Robins live as interesting a life as any garden bird. Research into their lives reveals that outside the breeding season both males and females sing to declare and defend their own individual territories. Songs are identical.

Behaviour changes around Christmas-time. Robins begin exploring other robins' territories seeking a mate. By mid-January the majority will be paired and the females stop singing.

Male robins continue singing, declaring what has become a joint future breeding territory.

On occasions singing lasts into the night especially where street lights are prominent. Detailed research shows that a few robins hold more than one territory simultaneously for up to six weeks.

These are usually adult males moving up to a third of a mile between breeding and winter territories. British robins are largely resident.

However some, mostly females, cross the Channel to spend the winter as far south as southern Spain and Portugal. A dangerous option even though the birds then become extremely secretive. At the same time there is an influx here of Continental robins from Scandinavia and Russia avoiding the severe northern winter

By Michael J. Seago

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Illustrations by Dave Nurney from - The Pocket Guide to the Birds Of Britain and North-West Europe By Chris Kightley and Steve Madge
© Pica Press and reproduced with kind permission.