Friday, December 23, 2011

Do you know the difference between British and American Robins?

Here's a beautiful photograph of a British Robin Redbreast taken by 4eyes photo in Kensington Gardens, London.
As you can he is quite different to his American cousin pictured below - especially so in stature - they do say everything is bigger in America but who thought that pertained to the wildlife too - the first time I was introduced to the American robin I was quite surprised at it's size, the American robin is about 8-11' tall and sleek and the British one only about 5" tall rotund and fluffy.
American Robins (Turdus migratorius) mark the return of Spring in most northern states. It is a migratory songbird of the thrush family and is named after the British or European robin because of its reddish-orange breast, though the two species are actually not closely related. The American Robin is widely distributed throughout North America wintering south of Canada from Florida to central Mexico and along the Pacific Coast.
The lovely Robin Redbreast – Erithacus rubela - is Britain's national bird  "Of all our British birds, none perhaps has gained so complete a hold on our imaginations...as our red-breasted friend. He is a welcome guest in every home in the kingdom, and in turn acknowledges the compliment by trusting as do few of our native birds" - so said Lewis Bonhote on the robin in 1907 in his book "Birds of Britain". The Robin Redbreast is a well-beloved herald of the Christmas season in Britain, as important as Christmas pudding, log fires and Father Christmas himself - and is frequently depicted on Christmas cards – like the lovely example below by my friend Valerie Greeley....
 and Canadian artist June Hunter...

The association between Christmas and the Robin Redbreast began because the postmen of the Royal Mail in the 1840’s used to wear bright red coats and became known as the “Robin Postmen” - and just as the postmen brought greetings of good cheer so did the robin with his splash of red in the winter scenery, his merry warbling and friendliness to humans – they are a tame bird because everyone loves them so although that relationship can be a little strained when the robins drink the cream off the top of your milk from your glass bottles with foil caps when left on the doorstep!!  The robin’s in my neighbourhood even knew which milk bottles were the best to ‘tap’ and if there was a choice they’d peck through the “gold top” milk as that had the most cream leaving the red tops alone for the humans to enjoy.

When I was first working as a designer in New York I did sketches for Christmas designs with robins merrily chirping away amidst the snow and couldn’t figure out why everyone thought it was odd until I was told that robins represent spring in the US and the cardinal (especially the male who is all red - the female is taupe coloured) is the herald of Christmas on this side of the pond!!  Male cardinals are a beautiful bright red and  they show up easily in a wintery landscape – they are named after Catholic Cardinals whose vestments are the same glowing colour as you can see in the photograph and illustration below.
A lovely photo of the male Cardinal by Mike at Greenpix on Etsy

And an illustration of the male Cardinal by Regina Chui

For Britain the herald of spring is the cuckoo – a bird I have never personally seen or heard and whose numbers are declining dramatically and may soon no longer be enjoyed in Britain in the spring at all.

2 comments:

Regina said...

This was very interesting. I didn't realized your robin was so different AND was a symbol of winter/holidays for your country. I've often seen cardinals in the Ramble of Central Park and I must admit, seeing them against a snowy backdrop still takes my breath away. Thanks for including my little guy in your lovely post. Merry Christmas!

Anonymous said...

I remember when I first moved to Ireland-I thought it was so odd to have robins on Christmas cards! So I had just the exact opposite experience as you did. I love those little chubby birds. Thanks for the memories. xoxo Happy Christmas, Peggy O'fiblerr