Cute Bird Robin"bloodthirsty killers"

Posted on 3:08 PM by Sameer Shah

Could any lyric be more quintessentially British than A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square? Well, I'm sorry to disabuse you, but nightingales aren't likely to have sung in Berkeley Square for several thousand years - right back to the time when London was just swamp and thicket.

No, the bird Vera Lynn immortalised was far more likely to be a robin - for robins, too, sing very beautifully on summer nights, or at least the males do. And unlike nightingales, they are happy in towns. Credit where credit's due.

A beloved festive symbol, the robin has been a cheery star of countless Christmas cards as far back as the mid-19th century, as well as appearing on many Christmas postage stamps.

It's an association that probably arose from the fact that postmen in Victorian Britain wore red tunics as part of their uniforms and were nicknamed ' Redbreasts'.

Therefore, the robin that features on so many festive greetings cards represents the legion of hardworking posties who delivered the nation's cards. And, without exception, the birds are portrayed as sweet and fluffy.

If only it were true. For the robin is a very different beast to the one we think we know. . .

Take the most common robin greeting card image of all - several robins huddling sweetly together for warmth on frosted clothes-lines. This is utter fiction. In reality, robins are feisty little blighters. Fighting is their thing and other robins bring out the worst in them.

This is just one of the myths I help dispel in a new book on avian behaviour. For surely no creature on earth is more misunderstood than this red-breasted icon.

Far from being the gentle icon of Yuletide blessing, it is in fact a determined little bruiser that protects its territory with a vigour that belies its modest size.

The following year, however, the same pair may come together again - although they more commonly find someone new. Robins are, as the ornithologists say, 'serially monogamous' - the Zsa Zsa Gabors of the animal kingdom.

Should we judge them? Of course not. It's not easy to be a wild animal - certainly not as easy as it looks. 'Free as a bird,' we say, as we watch them take off for the skies.

But of course they are not free. Wild creatures of all kinds have to do the right things at the right time or they die - or at least they fail to leave offspring, which means their lineage dies.

For robins, this means being tough little pragmatists who fight their corner when they need to.

Though they might seem sweet - and never more so than as the symbol of Christmas - in real life they can't afford to be.

They may choose to keep us company from time to time, but they are still wild at heart. For my money, that makes them all the more endearing.

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