Weatherwatch: how robins became a symbol of Christmas

Of all Britain’s birds, none is more closely associated with winter and Christmas, than the robin. But how did this come about?

The species’ association with the festive season can partly be traced to the 19th century when the newly created postal service dressed its workers in red uniforms. The Victorians nicknamed the delivery staff “robins” and the birds eventually cornered the Christmas market, appearing on greeting cards and wrapping paper.

But, as I reveal in my book The Robin: A Biography, their behaviour is also a key factor. Robins evolved as woodland birds, and in mainland Europe this is still their main home. In Britain they prefer gardens, which provide the ideal “analogue habitat” where they can feed, breed and roost.

They also take advantage of the UK’s passion for gardening, following residents closely as they dig up hard winter soil to reveal juicy worms.

This has made them very tame – even more so when snow covers their food supplies. Cold weather also means robins have to plump up their feathers to trap a layer of warm air beneath, which makes them look portly and even more endearing than normal.

Recent mild winters, especially in November and December, mean there is still plenty of natural food available elsewhere, so your garden robin may go missing for a while.

But if there is early snowfall, you can be sure a robin will appear at your door in search of much-needed sustenance.


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