Wildlife at Fforest Fields: The Robin


The instantly recognisable red breasted Robin has sometimes been referred to as “Britain’s favourite bird” and we’re not going to argue. In fact, after a ballot in the 1960s the Robin was named Britain’s national bird. This week in our ongoing feature on the wildlife at Fforest Fields we look at the happy little chap.

Latin name: Erithacus rubecula
Family: Chats and Thrushes (so its related to the blackbird and nightingale)
When to see them: All year round, although they tend to keep a low profile in midsummer
What they eat: Seeds, fruit, worms, caterpillars, insects

Robins are common visitors to gardens, curious and bold in nature the territorial little bird is always ready to investigate any freshly turned earth, seed on the bird table or simply keep an eye on what you are up to. The males and females look alike (often almost identical) with distinctive red breast and face, grey underparts, brown head, wings and tail. It is only the young you can distinguish by the difference in plumage, with speckled brown and no red feathers – thought to help them avoid attack from adults in territorial disputes. The speckled feathers are lost in a partial moult when the bird is about three months old.

British Robins hardly ever move far from where they hatch, whereas over on the continent (where the red-breasted birds don’t enjoy nearly as much of a celebrity status) they are known to travel long distances, with Finnish Robins making their way down to the Mediterranean during winter.

Robins tend to keep a low profile in midsummer, when they are moulting. But through the rest of the year they can be seen and become particularly prevalent in the winter months when their search for worms, grubs and seed brings them right into the garden.

As Robins are so distinctive, they have become embroiled in many stories, myths and legends over the years. But our favourite is this North American folk tale. Which we think is made for telling round the campfire. This is taken from The Baldwin Project, which has all sorts of lovely folk tales for children and is worth a browse!

“LONG ago, in the far Northland, where it is very cold, there was, once upon a time, a great, blazing fire. All day and all night a hunter and his little boy took care of it and kept it burning brightly. There was no other fire in the whole world, and the squirrels and the rabbits, and the chipmunks crept near to warm their toes before they hurried away for their winter stores, and all the Indians came for coals, that they might cook their food.

But one day the hunter became very ill, and he was obliged to leave his son quite alone tending the fire. For days and days, and nights and nights, the little boy bravely kept it burning, running off to the woods for twigs, and hastening back to toss them upon the blaze. But at last he was too tired to keep his eyes open any longer; so his head began nodding, and he fell fast asleep on the ground.

In the deep woods of the Northland lived a wicked old white bear. With his bright eyes he had been peering out from behind the pine trees, and watching the fire. He hated all warm things, and he wished to put the fire out, but he was afraid of the hunter’s sharp-pointed arrows. When the little boy closed his eyes, the bear laughed to himself and began to step softly nearer, and nearer, and nearer the fire.

“Now is my chance!” he said. ‘We will have no fire in the Northland.”

Then he jumped with his big, wet feet upon the logs, and trod on the coals, and tramped back and forth, until he could not see a spark. Then he went [180] back to his cave in the woods again, for he thought the fire was quite dead.

But up in a hemlock tree sat the little gray robin who lives in the Northland, and she felt very sorry when she saw what the white bear had done. She fluttered down to the ground, and over to the place where the fire had been, and she found—what do you think?—one tiny spark of flame that was still burning, and one little red coal! then the gray robin began hopping about, and flapping her little, gray wings, and fanning the tiny spark to make it burn brighter. And the red coal began to crackle, and the flames to burn higher and higher, until they scorched the poor robin’s breast; but she never minded at all, she was so happy that the fire was beginning to blaze again.

When it was burning away cheerily once more, as if nothing had happened, the little boy awoke, and the robin flew back to the hemlock tree, but the old white bear just growled and growled, to think that the fire was safe. And the robin, who had always been only a gray color all over, looked down where the flames had burned her breast, and it had turned a beautiful golden red. After that every gray robin had a pretty red breast, too, for the bird who kept the fire was the grandmother of them all.”

We have a wonderful little Robin on the campsite at the moment who loves darting into the room where we keep the wood-burning boiler as soon as we open the door. We think that he enjoys the warmth, to be honest at this time of the year we are pretty keen to stay in there for as long as possible. The last check we do is always to make sure that he’s made his escape, its now part of the boiler routine!

Jessie Barstow