European Robin (Erithacus rubecula) - Wiki
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[Photo] The European Robin (Erithacus rubecula rubecula)
The European Robin (Erithacus rubecula) or ??? in Europe ??? simply Robin is a small passerine bird that was formerly classed as a member of the thrush family, but is now considered to belong to the Old World flycatchers (Muscicapidae). European Robins and similar small European species are often called chats.
It occurs all over Europe to Western Siberia, south to Algeria and on the Atlantic Ocean as far as the Azores and Madeira. In the south east, it reaches the Caucasus range.
The European Robin is a common European songbird. It is 12.5 ??? 14.0 cm (5.0 ??? 5.5 inches) long and it is known for its pugnacious behaviour despite its small size. The distinctive red patch on the chest of both sexes led to its original name of redbreast. In the fifteenth century, when it became popular to give human names to familiar species, the bird came to be known as Robin redbreast, which was eventually shortened to robin (Lack, 1953:44).
Robins have a fluting, warbling song in the breeding season. Robins often sing into the evening, and sometimes into the night, leading some to confuse them with the Nightingale. Both males and females sing during the winter, when they hold separate territories, the song then sounding more plaintive than the summer version. The female Robins move a short distance from the summer nesting territory to a nearby territory that is more suitable for winter feeding. Male Robins keep the same territory throughout the year.
Robins build a neat cup nest in crevices, holes or artificial sites such as discarded kettles. When juvenile birds fly from the nests they are mottled brown in colour all over and do not have a red breast. After 2 to 3 months out of the nest, the juvenile birds grow some reddish feathers under their chins and over a further 2 to 3 months this patch gradually extends to complete the adult appearance.
The Robin is well known to British and Irish gardeners: it is relatively unafraid of humans and likes to come close when anyone is digging the soil, in order to look out for earthworms and other food freshly turned up; when the gardener stops for a break the robin might use the handle of the spade as a lookout point. Robins in continental Europe are more wary. Robins also approach large wild animals, such as wild boar, and other animals which disturb the ground for any food that might be brought to the surface.
Male Robins are noted for their highly aggressive territorial behaviour. They will ruthlessly attack other males that stray into their territories, and have been observed attacking other small birds without apparent provocation. Such attacks sometimes lead to fatalities, an aspect of the birds' behaviour which is at odds with its wholesome, gentle public image.
British Robins are largely resident but a small minority, usually female, migrate to southern Europe during winter and a few of these migrate as far as Spain.
Scandinavian and Russian Robins migrate to Britain and western Europe to escape the harsher winters. These migrants can be recognised by the greyer tone of the upper parts of their bodies and duller orange breast.
The robin belongs to a group of mainly insectivorous birds that have been assigned to the thrushes or "flycatchers", dependent on how these groups were perceived taxonomically through the years. Eventually, the flycatcher-thrush assemblage was separated and the genus Erithacus assigned to a group of thrush-like true flycatchers that also includes the nightingale and the Old World chats.
Two other species are usually placed in Erithacus. These, however are peculiar island birds, occurring on the other (Eastern) end of the Palearctic. Biogeography and mtDNA cytochrome b sequence data indicate that they are best separated together with some Far Eastern "nightingales", leaving the European species in Erithacus (Seki 2006).
In its large continental Eurasian range, robins vary somewhat, but do not form discrete populations that might be considered subspecies (P??tzold 1995, Dietzen et al. 2003). Thus, robin subspecies are mainly distinguished by forming resident populations on islands and in mountaineous areas.
As noted above, robins from the British Isles (Erithacus rubecula melophilus) differ from the mainland E. r. rubecula by having a more strongly colored breast and a greenish, not grey tinge to the upperside. It also occurs on the Continental side of the English channel and as a vagrant in adjacent regions. Similar birds from Northwestern Africa, Corsica, and Sardinia are named E. r. witherbyi. The northeasternmost birds, large and fairly washed-out in color are E. r. tataricus. In the SE, E. r. valens of the Crimean Peninsula, E. r. caucasicus of the Caucasus and N Transcaucasia, and E. r. hyrcanus southeastwards of the latter are generally accepted as significantly distinct.
On Madeira and the Azores, the local population has been described as E. r. microrhynchos, and although not distinct in morphology, its isolation seems to suggests the subspecies is valid (but see below). The most distinct birds are those of Tenerife and Gran Canaria (E. (r.) superbus), which may be a distinct species, the Tenerife Robin (as Erithacus superbus). It is readily distinguished by a white eye-ring, an intensely colored breast, and a grey line that separates the orange-red from the brown coloration. The belly is entirely white. Robins from the western Canary Islands - El Hierro, La Palma and La Gomera - on the other hand are indistinguishable from European E. r. rubecula.
While cytochrome b sequence data and vocalizations (Bergmann & Schottler 2001) indicate that the Tenerife/Gran Canaria robins are indeed very distinct and probably is derived from colonization by mainland birds some 2 mya, the W Canary Islands populations are younger (Middle Pleistocene) and only beginning to diverge genetically. In addition, Tenerife and Gran Canaria birds are well distinct genetically and the latter have been named E. (r.) marionae; a thorough comparison between superbus and marionae is pending. Initial results suggest that Gran Canaria birds have distinctly shorter (c.10%) wings than Tenerife superbus. (Dietzen et al 2003)
Other birds called "robin"
The larger American Robin, Turdus migratorius, is named for its similarity to the European Robin, not because they are closely related. The similarity lies largely in the orange chest patch in both species. This American species was incorrectly shown "feathering its nest" in London in the film Mary Poppins.
The Australian "robin redbreast", more correctly the Scarlet Robin, is more closely related to the crows and jays than it is to the European Robin. It belongs to the family Petroicidae, commonly called "Australasian robins".
The Red-billed Leiothrix is sometimes named "Pekin Robin" by aviculturalists.
The Robin in culture
The "Robin Redbreast" has much folklore surrounding it and has become strongly associated with Christmas, taking a starring role on many a Christmas card. The Robin has also appeared on many Christmas postage stamps.
An old English folk tale seeks to explain the Robin's distinctive red breast. 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 thereafter all Robins got the mark of Christ's blood upon them.
Robins also feature in the traditional children's tale, Babes in the Wood; the birds cover the dead bodies of the children.
Britain does not have an official national bird. The Robin was the most popular bird according to readers of The Times in the early 1960s. Following this, despite some lobbying, the British government did not actively promote the concept of an official national bird. The Robin was used as a symbol of a Bird Protection Society for a few years only.
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