In 1960 the Times Newspaper conducted a poll to identify Britain’s favourite bird. Not surprisingly, the Robin had a landslide victory and as a result there was a campaign to have it adopted as Britain’s national bird. The Government however did not respond to the concept (the Tories were in power at the time and this had no benefit for the rich people in the country) and Britain remains therefore without an official avian representative! As a sort of consolation the Robin was used as a symbol of a Bird Protection Society, but only for a few years before because this was discontinued after a short while.
Unlike most other woodland and garden birds, the robin rarely migrates abroad and is probably for this reason that we associate them with Christmas, taking a starring role as they do every year on thousands of Christmas cards. The Robin has also appeared on a complete set of Christmas postage stamps in 1995 and before that in 1966 in a ‘Birds of Britain’ set.
An old English folk tale seeks to explain the Robin’s distinctive red breast and legend has it that when Jesus was dying on the cross, the Robin, then simply brown in colour, flew to his side and sang into his ear in order to comfort him in his pain. The blood from his wounds stained the Robin’s breast, and after that all Robins got the mark of Christ’s blood upon them. The robin’s red breast is often assumed to play a role in courtship but in fact it is purely used in defence because despite their distinctly cute appearance Robins are fiercely territorial and will defend their patch to the death.
All the birds of the air fell a-sighing and a-sobbing, when they heard the bell toll for poor Cock Robin.
In the birds of Shakespeare, the Robin (or the Ruddock) gets three mentions, in Cymberline, The Two Gentlemen of Verona and Henry IV part 1.
Because their home colours are red at least eight English football clubs are nicknamed ‘The Robins’. Only one other bird is the nickname of more than one club and that is the Magpie, so the Robin is rather over represented in this respect. Here is my list, but there are probably some more:
West Bromich Albion Throstles (Song Thrush)
Norwich City Canaries
Newcastle United Magpies
Notts County Magpies
Leeds United Peacocks
Sheffield Wednesday Owls
Crystal Palace Eagles
Cardiff City Bluebirds
Swansea City Swans
Torquay United Gulls
Brighton & Hove Seagulls
Kiddermister Town Harriers
and the Robins are: Chetenham Town, Swindon Town, Bristol City, Wrexham, Altincham, Ilkeston Town, Bracknell Town and Selby Town!
None of these nicknames though are as interesting as my favourite. Hartlepool United are known as the Monkeyhangers because during the Napoleonic wars the residents of the town allegedly mistook a monkey for a Frenchman and strung it up from the town gallows. According to local folklore a French ship was wrecked off the coast and the only survivor was a monkey, wearing a French uniform. On discovering the monkey, some locals decided to hold an impromptu trial on the beach and since the unfortunate animal was unable to answer their questions (and many locals were unaware of what a Frenchman may look like) they concluded that the monkey was in fact a French spy and had it put to death.
In the list of nicknames there are no Great Tits I notice, although it is almost certain that most clubs, or their players, will be referred to as such at some time during a season. In the world of Rugby League Hull Kingston Rovers are called the Robins and so is the Swindon speedway team.
Other famous Robins are the Boy Wonder in the Batman comics, the Robin Reliant car and of course our most famous hero of Sherwood Forest, Robin Hood! There is a story that in the DC comic ‘Batman’ the name ‘Robin the Boy Wonder’ was inspired by the Errol Flynn movie ‘The Adventures of Robin Hood’ but other theories about Robin’s origin have instead often said the name comes from the bird, which neatly explains the red tunic.
This is my dad’s page about Robins:
Other posts about birds: