The days shorten. Nights become colder. Summer, and the migrating swifts have long gone. Winter waits in the wings. But in winter or summer, most gardens have a resident robin or pair of robins. They are territorial in manner, robust in behaviour and can be seen pugnaciously chasing away any other small birds who they think might be invading their territory. They often come very close to humans, however, even landing on a gardeners spade, or cheekily coming up to accept any worms or insects which the gardener has obligingly turned over with the soil.
Their fierce defence of their territory belies their peaceful, lovable image adorning our Christmas cards, delivered by postmen, who, in the early days of their history, were also called robins due to their red uniform waistcoats. The early settlers in the New World, seeking connections with the Old World, named a red-fronted bird of the blackbird family the American Robin.
The robins nest is built by the female and is constructed on ivy-clad walls, in secretive places, such as banks or among roots, and it is not unknown for the robin to utilise old tins or kettles for nesting. There have been instances of post boxes used as nest sites another connection between robins and the Royal Mail! Baby robins are fledged with speckled plumage and only later in the year resemble their parents. Both sexes look alike as adults each sporting the bright red breast.
St Serf of Culross in Fife had a tame robin which was accidentally killed but brought back to life by Kentigern, later known as St Mungo. Thomas Bewick, famous for his woodcuts (including one of the robin in 1797), still used the Anglo Saxon name ruddock for this species. The robin (or ruddock) is probably the earliest bird named in our historical records.
In Christian lore there is a tradition that the robin felt Christ's agony during the Crucifixion, and went to pull a thorn from His brow. One version says that some of Christ's blood fell upon the birds breast, while another version says that the bird was wounded in the process. Both versions agree that the robin is blessed for this act of love.
Look at your Christmas cards on display in December and observe how many depict robins. These cheerful birds remind us that Love is All.
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