Harry’s advent calendar of birds, day 24: Robin

No surprise in the final bird on the advent calendar. Or at least, no surprise for my British readers; robins probably appear on more Christmas cards here than Jesus.

In fact, the robin is so deeply linked to Christmas that it’s slightly surprising to remember other countries don’t have the same association. Some of them have the excuse that they don’t actually have any robins — and no, Americans, your so called ‘robins’ don’t count — but the same applies to other European countries.

It’s not completely clear where the connection came from. It’s relatively recent, as folklore goes; at most back to the eighteenth century, and it became really well established in the nineteenth, as Christmas cards became popular. One suggestion, according to Birds Britannica, is that Robin was a nickname for Victorian postmen, who had red uniforms; so the birds often appeared on Christmas cards carrying envelopes in their beaks. Or perhaps it’s because they sing through the winter.

Christmas aside, they are very popular birds; they are famously tame around people, hanging around gardeners looking for worms. Apparently they actually evolved this behaviour in association with wild boar, which they would follow through the forest in much the same manner. I guess there are worse things to be than a substitute boar.

Happy Christmas, one and all.

4 Comments

  1. jill
    24 December 2009 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

    I thought for a moment you’d lost your mind and had misidentified a robin. The UK actual robin is markedly cuter than our non-robin US robins. This particular one looks smarter, too.
    have a lovely christmas-
    jill

  2. Harry
    25 December 2009 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    Happy Christmas!

    Yes, the American Robin is not terribly closely related, but it was named after the original robin because of the red breast. But the American ones fly south for the winter, so they’d make a rubbishy Christmas bird, attractive though they are.

  3. 1 January 2010 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

    Yes, they fly south to places like The Bahamas, though I’ve seen more jays and egrets around here than (big hulking American) “robins”, to tell the truth.

  4. Harry
    2 January 2010 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    Meanwhile there are birds around here that have flown south to London for the winter. I guess at least it’s a bit warmer here than it is in Sweden.

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