Common name: European robin
Scientific name: Erithacus rubecula
Identified by Linneaus in 1758, the European robin is an insectivorous, passerine bird. With an adult length of 12.5-14.0 cm (5.0-5.5 in), wingspan of 20-22cm (8-9 in), and weight of 16-22g (9/16-13-16oz), the back and head is generally a grey-brown, while the underside is white or cream. The robin's orange-red breast feathers originally provided the species name, leading it to be called redbreast, prior to the commonplace pseudo-anthropomorphization of non-human animals, during which "Robin" was added.
HABITAT AND RANGE
A member of the old-world flycatcher family, robins are largely sedentary, except in the extreme northern reaches of their range and are native to the British Isles and Northern continental Europe. Specifically, E. rubecula is resident in the much of western Europe, south of the Baltic states, though the species is found in colder regions, like Poland, Russia, and Norway in the summer months. The robin’s range extends from western Siberia in the east, to Algeria in the south, and the Azores in the west, and includes the Caucasus mountains. Escaping from the harsher winters in the north, Scandinavian robins are often found in the British Isles in winter, noted by their greyish plumage and duller orange breasts. They are also identified by their affinity for spruce forests in their native northern regions, in contrast to their British relatives that prefer gardens and parklands. They are not selective when nesting, so long as there is a depression or safe area available. The chosen location is filled with moss, leaves and grasses. Two or three clutches of five to six eggs are typically laid throughout the breeding season that begins in March for the British Isles and Ireland.
Due to the species’ lack of migration in the colder months, the Celtic and Anglo-Saxon peoples regarded the robin as the avian King of Winter—a contrast to the wren, the King of Summer. This regard is still shared by people practicing Earth-based spiritualities influenced by European traditions and mythos. In Nordic mythology, for example, the robin is associated with Thor and is considered to be a sacred storm-cloud bird. Though often removed from the older legends, such as that of the fierce storm bird, superstition surrounding the robin and its counterpart, the wren has somewhat protected it from harm—especially from enterprising young boys seeking to expand their collection of bird’s eggs (before the bans on such things). It was said that misfortune and ill luck would follow anyone brazen enough to disturb a nest. In the same vein, having the blessing or regard of a robin is a sign of good luck. In a more modern context, there are many sports teams named after the redbreasted avian, citing the small bird’s agility.
KATE SALTER MSC
Kate is an ethnobiologist and artist with an interest in Pagan traditions. She wrote a Master's thesis on plant use in contemporary Pagan culture in the UK. Watch out for her corresponding feature flora on the botanical kings of summer and winter, coming up on the 15th December!
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Evans G (1972). The Observer's Book of Birds' Eggs. London: Warne. p. 85.
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Ingersoll, Ernest (1923). "Fire-birds: The Robin and the Wren". Birds in legend, fable and folklore.
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Morris, Desmond (1981). The Soccer Tribe. London: Jonathan Cape. p. 210.
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*I recommend the Inersoll text. It is free to peruse and fully searchable: https://archive.org/details/birdsinlegendfab00inge