The European Robin (Erithacus rubecula), most commonly known as the Robin, is a small insectivorous passerine bird that was formerly classed as a member of the thrush family (Turdidae), but is now considered to be an Old World flycatcher (Muscicapidae). Around 12.5–14.0 cm (5.0–5.5 in) in length, the male and female are similar in colouration, with an orange breast and face lined with grey, brown upperparts and a whitish belly. It is found across Europe, east to Western Siberia and south to North Africa; it is sedentary in most of its range except the far north
The adult European Robin is 12.5–14.0 cm (5.0–5.5 in) long and weighs 16–22 g (9/16–13/16 oz), with a wingspan of 20–22 cm (8–9 in). The male and female bear similar plumage; an orange breast and face, lined by a bluish grey on the sides of the neck and chest. The upperparts are brownish, or olive-tinged in British birds, and the belly whitish, while the legs and feet are brown. The bill and eyes are black. Juveniles are a spotted brown and white in colouration, with patches of orange gradually appearing.
The Robin has a fluting, warbling song in the breeding season, when they often sing into the evening, and sometimes into the night, leading some to confuse them with the Nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos). Nocturnal singing in urban Robins occurs in places that are noisy during the day, suggesting that they sing at night because it is quieter, and their message can propagate through the environment more clearly. Daytime noise outperformed night-time light pollution as a predictor of nocturnal singing activity in urban robins in Sheffield, England. Both the male and female sing during the winter, when they hold separate territories, the song then sounding more plaintive than the summer version. The female Robin moves a short distance from the summer nesting territory to a nearby area that is more suitable for winter feeding. The male Robin keeps the same territory throughout the year.
Distribution and habitat
The Robin occurs in Eurasia east to Western Siberia, south to Algeria and on the Atlantic islands as far west as the Azores and Madeira. It is not found in Iceland. In the south east, it reaches the Caucasus range. British Robins are largely resident but a small minority, usually female, migrate to southern Europe during winter, a few as far as Spain. Scandinavian and Russian Robins migrate to Britain and western Europe to escape the harsher winters. These migrants can be recognised by the greyer tone of the upper parts of their bodies and duller orange breast. The European Robin prefers spruce woods in northern Europe, contrasting with its preference for parks and gardens in the British Isles.
Attempts to introduce the European Robin into Australia and New Zealand in the latter part of the 19th century were unsuccessful. Birds were released around Melbourne, Auckland, Christchurch, Wellington and Dunedin by various local Acclimatisation societies, with none becoming established. There was a similar outcome in North America as birds failed to establish after being released in Long Island, New York in 1852, Oregon in 1889-92, and the Saanich Peninsula in British Columbia in 1908-10.
The Robin is diurnal, although has been reported to be active hunting insects on moonlit nights or near artificial light at night. Well known to British and Irish gardeners, it is relatively unafraid of people and likes to come close when anyone is digging the soil, in order to look out for earthworms and other food freshly turned up. Indeed, the robin is considered to be a gardener's friend and for various folklore reasons the robin would never be harmed. In continental Europe on the other hand, robins were hunted and killed as with most other small birds, and are more wary. Robins also approach large wild animals, such as wild boar and other animals which disturb the ground, to look for any food that might be brought to the surface. In autumn and winter, robins will supplement their usual diet of terrestrial invertebrates, such as spiders, worms and insects, with berries and fruit. They will also eat seed mixtures placed on bird-tables.
Male Robins are noted for their highly aggressive territorial behaviour. They will attack other males that stray into their territories, and have been observed attacking other small birds without apparent provocation. Such attacks sometimes lead to fatalities, accounting for up to 10% of adult Robin deaths in some areas.
Because of high mortality in the first year of life, a Robin has an average life expectancy of 1.1 years; however, once past its first year it can expect to live longer and one Robin has been recorded as reaching the age of 12 years. A spell of very low temperature in winter may also result in significant mortality. This species is parasitised by the moorhen flea, Dasypsyllus gallinulae.
Robins may choose a wide variety of sites for building a nest, in fact anything which can offer some form of depression or hole may be considered. As well as the usual crevices, or sheltered banks, odder objects include pieces of machinery, barbecues, bicycle handlebars, bristles on upturned brooms, discarded kettles, watering cans, flower pots and even hats. The nest is composed of moss, leaves and grass, with finer grass, hair and feathers for lining. Two or three clutches of five or six eggs are laid throughout the breeding season, which commences in March in Britain and Ireland. The eggs are a cream, buff or white speckled or blotched with reddish-brown colour, often more heavily so at the larger end. When juvenile birds fly from the nests they are mottled brown in colour all over. After two to three months out of the nest, the juvenile bird grows some orange feathers under its chin and over a similar period this patch gradually extends to complete the adult appearance.