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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

BirdNote: Robin Redbreast

Air Date: Week of

The European Robin. (Photo: Tony Morris)

The “Robin RedBreast”, or European Robin, is a cultural touchstone in the U.K., where its seasonal arrival heralds spring and is a sign of good luck. BirdNote’s Mary McCann reveals the mythical origin story of this beloved bird.



CURWOOD: One of the most beloved harbingers of spring is the robin. But as Mary McCann points out in today’s BirdNote, our devotion to the robin is nothing compared to feelings for the pint-sized version across the pond.

The Robin’s Namesake

The American Robin rates as one of our best-known birds.

[American Robin song, http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/168300, 0.07-.09]

The roots of its common name lie in Europe, though, and a distant relative, a bird not much bigger than a chickadee: the European Robin.

[European Robin song, http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/162860, 0.06-.09]

Like the American Robin, the European Robin is a bird of yards and gardens and has a red-orange breast, so it’s often called “Robin Red-Breast,” or just “Robin.”

[European Robin song, http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/162860, 0.06-.09]

And it’s something of a cultural touchstone in the UK. The Robin Red-Breast’s seasonal arrival harkens Spring. It’s been said to signal good luck. And its likeness turns up everywhere from Mother Goose rhymes, Peter Rabbit stories, and whiskey labels to postage stamps and Christmas cards. The little robin pops up in European folklore, too, including Norse mythology, where it was sacred to mighty Thor.

And as for its breast color — One account has it that when the robin visited souls in Purgatory to refresh them with water, its breast was scorched to its current shade.

On at least two occasions, the Robin Red-Breast has won the popular vote to become the UK’s unofficial national bird.

So clearly, although small, it packs a mighty, symbolic punch.

[European Robin song, http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/162860, 0.06-.09]

I’m Mary McCann.

A United Kingdom postage stamp starring Robin Red-Breast (Photo: P. Khoo)

Written by Bob Sundstrom
Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York.
168300 recorded by Wilbur L Hershberger and 162860 recorded by Gregory F Budney.
BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Sallie Bodie
© 2017 Tune In to Nature.org February 2017 Narrator: Mary McCann

Voted national bird: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-33090043
Other sources: http://newmexicobirds.blogspot.com/2009/03/little-robin-redbreast.html?m=1


CURWOOD: And if you’ve never seen Robin Redbreast, or even if you have, flutter over to our website LOE.org for some photos.



“The Robin’s Namesake” on the BirdNote website

Learn more about the European Robin on the BBC Nature website


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