This small bird is easy to spot with its bright red puffed up chest and friendly demeanour. Robins are well known for accompanying gardeners, perching on upturned fork handles or digging for worms from freshly turned soil. Every robin has a unique breast pattern, so it is possible to recognise individuals if you are interested in learning if the same birds are visiting your garden. However, it is very difficult to see these differences.
Males and females look identical with the olive-brown upper parts and olive-buff coloured underside. Their big black eyes stand out tremendously against their orange-red breast.
Juvenile robins have mottled brown plumage with pale underparts and many novice birders may not recognise this as their friendly robin red breast. The red breast appears approximately two months after the first moult.
Average Length: 13-14 cm
Average Lifespan: 3-5 Years
Average Wingspan: 20-22cm
Robins have a varied diet and will eat spiders, beetles and other small insects, worms, berries, soft fruits, and seeds. Robins will also eat most kitchen scraps such as cakes, biscuits and cheese, as well as using bird tables and feeders.
How to feed: Bird tables and feeders
What to feed: Meal worms, peanut granules, suet treats and cheese
Despite their cute and cheerful appearance, male robins can be quite aggressive and will sometimes fight to the death to defend their territory. They will attack their own reflection or even a bundle of red feathers if they mistake it for another bird. Both males and females hold their own separate feeding territories in the winter, and they will defend it vigorously. By around Christmas, many will have paired up. Initially, they do not spend much time together and will merely tolerate one another but will remain together until the following autumn moult. Robins are one of the earliest birds to nest, with breeding starting in late March, although during mild winters robins have been known to breed as early as January.
They build their cupped and often domed nests from sticks, grass, moss, and dead leaves in areas with lots of shelter and easy access. Robins are famous for nesting in all sorts of odd locations including post boxes, flowerpots, hanging baskets, old boots and even coat pockets. Male robins help gather materials and females do most of the building work. In late March or early April, normally the first brood is laid of 4-6 eggs, with robins normally producing 2 broods a year. The female incubates the eggs for 2 weeks and the chicks fledge after another 2 weeks where the male does most of the care as the female readies for her next breeding.
Robin populations are faring well in the UK, with increases over the last few years. Climate change could have a massive impact on robins, as they can lose up to 10% of their body weight in just one cold winters night, so providing food that is high in fat is a big help during the colder months. For more information on potential threats to robins, see our campaign for National Robin Day.
Fill your bird feeders with sunflower seeds (a firm favourite) placed near to hedges.
Keep a constant supply of fresh, clean water available year-round.
Providing an open fronted nestbox in a hidden location may allow you to have your own resident robin nests.
The legend of robin red breast is that that the robin got his breast after burning himself on a fire he fanned to keep the baby Jesus warm. He then is fabled to carry the red breast as a sign of his devotion.
BirdLife International (2022) Species factsheet: Erithacus rubecula. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 20/06/2022.
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Robinson, R.A. (2005) BirdFacts: profiles of birds occurring in Britain & Ireland. BTO, Thetford (http://www.bto.org/birdfacts, accessed on 28 March 2022)
Stanbury, A.J., Eaton, M.A., Aebischer, N.J., Balmer, D., Brown, A.F., Douse, A., Lindley, P., McCulloch, N., Noble, D.G., Win, I. (2021) The status of our bird populations: the fifth Birds of Conservation Concern in the United Kingdom, Channel Islands and Isle of Man and second IUCN Red List assessment of extinction risk for Great Britain. British Birds. 114
Thomas, R.J., Cuthill, I.C. (2002) Body mass regulation and the daily singing routines of European robins. Animal Behaviour. 63(2): 285-295.
Woodward, I., Aebischer, N., Burnell,D., Eaton, M., Frost, T., Hall, C., Stroud, D. & Noble, D. (2020) Population estimates of birds in Great Britain and the United Kingdom. British Birds. 113: 69–104.