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Quaint little symbol of the season may well be an iconic star, but on the quiet he’s a bit of a territorial thug
He’s the star of millions of Christmas cards, and he will happily sit on a nearby fence post while you toil away at the clinging, winter soil in your garden, his little head cocked at an angle to get a better view of your strange behaviour.
And the chances are he’s the one that will turn heads as he nestles on a branch just outside any window.
But this cutest of Christmas icons is, well frankly, a bit of a thug. His PR image as a friendly little fellow is threatened by a tale that rips at the very heart of the Christmas message of peace and goodwill to all.
He’s a murderer and a quick-tempered yob, if we’re going to be brutally honest about it.
Erithacus rubecula, to give him his proper name, does his best to brighten up our dull British winter days with his little splash of colour and his distinctive song, but he doesn’t give out good karma to any other robin that strays into his back yard.
Bird experts say that roughly 10 per cent of adult robins die a grisly death at the hands of a rival inflicting a fractured skull rather than falling prey to domestic cats or starvation.
The male is particularly noted for its aggressive territorial behaviour, ruthlessly attacking others in behaviour akin to a human football hooligan from the 1970s straying into the wrong section of terracing at a rival club stadium.
Because of high mortality in the first year of life, a Robin has an average life expectancy of 1.1 years; but once past its first year it can expect to live longer and one Robin has been recorded as reaching the age of 12 years. Its next worst enemy is the neighbourhood cat, followed by a spell of very low temperatures.
Designers of greetings cards, mugs, stockings and children’s clothing have been happy to turn a blind eye to this cantankerous behaviour and he’s plastered all over our Christmas goodies.
The robin has been appearing on Christmas cards ever since their inception in the early 1860s.
Undoubtedly the fact that the red breast provides a welcome splash of colour is one reason why, with his cute little demeanour towards humans is another.
But in addition to these endearing features there are two other interesting theories.
One is a legendary story relating to the first Christmas, during which the robin was the sole creature to respond to Mary’s plea for help in keeping a fire alive to warm the infant Jesus, burning his little chest red in the process of beating his wings to fan the flames.
The other is that robins first appeared on Christmas cards as a representation of Victorian postmen, who wore red tunics and were known as redbreasts.