Sydney Henderson, Communications Officer for RSPB England, tells us why robins and Christmas go together ...

This year the first-ever robin migration was tracked, as a tiny nanotag allowed researchers to follow a heroic 140-mile journey across the North Sea. And what better time to reflect on the small-but-mighty robin, than Christmas time. But why are robins associated with Christmas? And just how far back does the tradition go?  

 Robins are not the only bird visible at Christmas time and can be spotted all year round. Perhaps we feel a special kinship for them, as other species abandon us for warmer climates in the cold winter months (I’m looking at you swallow). Their cheerful song is the soundtrack to many a wintery morning – although to burst that charming bubble, this cheerful piping tune is actually a male robin’s aggressive claim to territory.    

It may be suspected that these reasons, alongside the festive red colouration, have led to the robin being featured on Christmas cards and decorations across the land. But the real reason goes back decades…  

In the 1900s, Victorian postmen wore red uniforms, as a proud link to the British flag, earning them the nickname ‘robin redbreast’. As Christmas drew near people all over England eagerly awaited cards from loved ones, delivered by their local ‘robin’. The small bird’s fate was sealed, as artists began illustrating Christmas cards with the birds delivering festive letters and cards, and they quickly became a Christmas icon.  

Another story goes as far back as 2000 years ago, where rumour has it, a small brown bird fanned the flames of a fire to keep the baby Jesus warm. Embers from the fire scorched its tiny chest, leaving it red-breasted forevermore (and probably rather pleased to have been involved).  

These plump gardener’s friends are a wonderful accompaniment to an English Christmas, and there is no wonder why the robin has been crowned Britain’s National Bird. Why not look out for them this January, and take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch