Each month we focus on a species that benefits from Fair to Nature farming methods. In December we take a festive look at the cheery little Robin (Erithacus rubecula)…
Whilst the red-breast of the Robin is the most instantly recognised of one of Britain’s most wide spread bird species, the large dark eye which is proportionately much bigger than our own enables dusk ’til dawn activity and it can often be heard singing in the dead of night! With a heart rate of about a thousand beats a minute its intensive, and at times aggressive, life makes it the bird most loved by the British public, as identified in the recent national bird vote where it claimed the number one spot. It is a favourite among gardeners as it will often keep them company while they are digging, in the hope of feasting on a nice juicy worm.
As noted by the eminent ornithologist David Lack who studied the behaviour of Robins, it surely more than coincidence that our most cherished characters share its name such as outlaw Robin Hood, a friendly sprite Robin Goodfellow or a cherished character of English literature Christopher Robin. However as loved as the Robin has been throughout Britain’s history the same cannot be said of our continental peers whom have in various literature written on ways to trap and eat our beloved Robin – even now large numbers of migrant Robins are sadly captured for food in parts of the Mediterranean.
Even under extreme risk of starvation during Siberian-like winter of 1947, Norfolk folk were forced to trap small birds for the pot yet the Robin was avoided and if accidentally caught it was buried rather than eaten. This love affair rings true in William Blake’s frequently quoted lines ‘A Robin in a cage puts all heaven in a rage’
When the custom of sending Christmas mail took off in the 1860s the bright red coats of postal service uniforms gave rise to the nickname of Robin to the Victorian postmen, early Christmas cards depicted Robins carrying envelopes in their bills, and to this day the red vans, postboxes and jackets of the Royal Mail are Robin-red!
‘Come in Robin-postman and warm theeself awhile’
However, the Robins friendliness and relationship with Christmas and winter cheer no doubt pre-dates even the 1860s, the choice of this bird of winter has perhaps some pagan origins, a vibrancy of living colour in an otherwise bleak mid-winter.
To read previous Species of the Month, please click on the links below: