The robin redbreast is one of Britain’s most recognisable and iconic birds. Our expert guide on robins looks at where to see them in Britain, top facts about the species and how to attract them to your garden.
The robin is surrounded by folklore. In some old country traditions, robins arrived in the stable soon after Jesus was born and, while Joseph was gathering wood, fanned the dying fire with their wings to keep it alight. The Virgin Mary awarded them with their fiery breast as a reward. In old British religions the Holly King of Winter – a wren – was killed by the Oak King of Summer – a robin – on the winter solstice. On the summer solstice the Holly King had his revenge.
Where to see robins in Britain
Unlike some British bird species which migrate annually, it is possible to see robins all year round. In the UK robins can be seen in parks, woodland, hedgerows – and if you’re lucky your garden or allotment.
Both sexes of robins have red breasts and both puff out their chests as a sign of aggression
In breeding season, males can be particularly ferocious – attacking each other bloodily and even, very occasionally, killing a rival.
Robins are notoriously territorial – two redbreasts square up for a fight/Credit: Getty
The symbol of Christmas
The robin became Britain’s bird of Christmas largely because Victorian postmen, who wore red tunic, were known as robin redbreasts. Robins began to appear on Christmas cards and other festive missives as a symbol of the red breasted messenger.
The robin became Britain’s bird of Christmas largely because Victorian postmen/Credit: Getty
The robin is one of our few bird species to sing throughout winter. Both sexes sing and this is thought to be a way of maintaining territories ready for the breeding season.
Even the winter months brings out the chorister in the robin/Credit: Getty
Robin eggs are pale but heavily freckled with rust as if exposed to damp
Robins nest in banks or tree crevices
But often choose strange sites in gardens and houses, including inside letter boxes and car wheel arches.
This was first decided in 1961 when the International Council for Bird Preservation were set the task of choosing Britain’s national bird. Instead of opening the debate up to public vote as in 2015, the decision was made after a long correspondence in The Times newspaper.
A hopeful robin hunting for garden worms/Credit: Getty
European robins are more timid
In Europe, the robin is a more timid bird than in Britain, where it regularly followers gardeners (especially when they’re digging) in the hope they might turn up a tasty worm. Back in continental Europe, the robin has been observed following wild boar, which also dig the soil in search of tubers and roots. No doubt, Forest of Dean robins are doing the same with the growing population of wild boar there.
How to attract robins to your garden
Naturalist Stephen Moss shares his top tips on how to attract robins to your garden
Put out high quality seeds and feed
Robins are fairly broadminded in their choice of food, but like all small birds in winter, obtaining energy is the key. So put out a range of high-value seeds (kibbled sunflower hearts are ideal), scattered on a bird table or in a bird feeder.
Birds need a mixture of fat and seeds for energy in the cold winter months/Credit: Getty
Make your own fat balls or ‘bird cake’
Also put out balls of fat or ‘bird cake’ – a rich mixture of fat and seeds. Mealworms are a real treat – place them in a smooth-sided bowl so that they can’t escape.
Winter is a good time to put up nestboxes: robins need open-fronted ones that are hidden away behind foliage or climbing plants so that they don’t attract the attention of cats.