When the red robin goes bobbin’ along

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As it’s nearly Christmas, I thought it would be appropriate to take a closer look at one of the most familiar symbols of the season – the robin.

I’m certain that everyone will have at least one Christmas card with a robin on it, but how did this common garden bird become associated with the festive season?

Here are a few fun facts and figures dredged from my collection of bird books, old and new, to bore your friends at your Christmas party.

A favourite Christmas card subject is an illustration of several happy robins sitting on a snow-covered fence. This would never happen in real life as robins are territorial, virtually all the year round, and such a gathering would result in a miniature version of World War Three.

Robins in northern Europe find winters there too cold and migrate south, often passing through this country in October and back again in April.

Every garden has its resident pair of robins, but sadly it is usually just one of the two which is likely to survive from one breeding season to the next.

The oldest robin lived to around eight years old, but most fall victim to cats, cars, hunger, disease and sparrowhawks.

Probably more robins sing at night than any other resident species and they are usually one of the first to join the morning’s dawn chorus. They sing all the year round, with the exception of the five-week moult period, usually in July and August.

The American robin is more closely related to the blackbird and Aristotle thought that the summer redstarts in Greece changed into robins in the winter.

The reason for the robin’s appearance on Christmas cards probably started around 1860, when the first cards were delivered by postmen wearing red jackets.

His nick-name at the time was Robin, so it was probably a visual pun to include them on the card.

The ‘ruddock’ is an old name for the robin and it was once thought that if one entered the house, it was a sign of an imminent death in the family.

Street lights encourage robins to sing late into the evening and it was probably a robin and not a nightingale which sang in Berkeley Square.

Don’t forget to feed all the birds this winter.

Next week, I will take a look at back at the first half of 2014 in the Borders countryside as seen through my weekly ramblings in this column.