The Robin: a very British bird

As we’re some way into autumn, it’s only a few steps away from the mists and depths of winter. What other bird than the Robin should enter our national consciousness, that classic natural symbol intimately connected with the festive period? So let’s talk about the Robin, and why it is we find this bird so endearing.

Back in June 2015, the Robin was crowned as the UK’s national bird. According to one organiser of a national poll, it was the territoriality, chirpiness and general ability to punch above its own weight that sealed its fate as old Blighty’s favourite avian friend. But these relatively superficial observations are based on typically common behaviour; they don’t get to the bottom of why we elevate the Robin to this special status.

And so we ask why is it that the Robin has entered so profoundly the minds of Britons across the land? What is it above all other birds that distinguish its character?

Could it be the colour red?

All history influences the present state of affairs, and the perceptions we hold are often based on historical and cultural circumstances, which, ultimately, have consequences for how we interpret everyday things, such as Robins.

Take the colour red as an example. It is our national colour, being used for many different purposes, from red military uniforms (think Redcoats), the red arrows, the central red circle of the RAF’s roundel, to phrases such as “Under the Red Duster they sustain our Island Fortress”.

In Elizabethan England, for instance, the colour red for use in clothing was dictated by English law, known as the Sumptuary Laws, because the colour of clothes dictated the status of the individual wearing them – in fact red was Queen Elizabeth 1st’s favourite colour. Red, then, is royal; it is power, and contains a deep implication of valiance.

The Robin and territoriality

The Robin is incredibly territorial. In fact, a typical Robin can hold territory all year round, and frequently, and aggressively, defends these claims to the extent where other birds may meet a fatal end. It is interesting to note that the colour of the Robin’s breast is used primarily for the purpose of territoriality.

Perhaps this can be juxtaposed with the island mentality of the majority of Britons. Our wild and fluctuating history of immigration and territorial disputes, from the Romans, the Saxons, Vikings and Normans, and the ultimate culmination of technological progress that allowed such a small island to extensively dominate world affairs, has given us a keen sense of ownership, but also of loss. Perhaps this gives us a special understanding of the Robin, and why it would want to stake its claim to ownership over territory.

The Robin as a friendly old chap

Without a doubt, the Robin is famed for its fearless willingness to approach humans. You’ll often see them out and about in the open, whereas numerous other birds will shy away quickly to find a hiding place. In the depths of winter the Robin’s red breast, providing a glimmering and distinctive flash of red in a barren snowy environment, is quite endearing; it’s no wonder why this attractive bird has entered our national consciousness.

The Robin and nostalgia

Perhaps it’s simply nostalgia, deep routed in our collective consciousness as a society that raised the Robin to status of King of the Birds. Its constant year-round presence, friendly yet strong character, which allows it to punch above its weight, gives it the means for defending territory against often larger prey: a tangible example of David and Goliath – yes, everyone likes an underdog. These facts, alongside the distinctive red breast, resonate with our British sense of respect for valiance and royal authority, owing to the social distinction based on the rule of law, which has traditionally been attributed to this primary colour.

So, in a nutshell, perhaps it shouldn’t be “that would be King”, but “that should be King”.

Robins love…

Classic Suet Balls

Suet is absolutely essential for birds, providing instant energy which is just what they need.

Dried Mealworm

Birds really love these dried mealworms. They have all the protein of live mealworms with less wastage, and an extra long shelf life.

Ultiva Robin & Softbill Seed Mix

A popular classic for all year round feeding, Ultiva® Robin & Softbill seed mix utilises the best of premium soft grains and fruit to attract gorgeous birds to your garden.

Ultiva Softbill Suet Pellets

Thrushes, Robins and Blackbirds will love these treat pellets containing a mixture of suet and Ultiva® Softbill Mix with ground raisins, peanut nibs, flaked maize, rolled naked oats and Bogena.