European Robin

Erithacus rubecula

European Robin
Pierre-Selim/Flickr/CC by-SA 2.0

The national bird of the United Kingdom, the European robin is a compact songbird and a common sight in many gardens, woodlands, and backyards. Despite their amiable appearance, however, these can be very aggressive and territorial birds.

Common Name: European Robin, English Robin, Robin, Robinet, Ruddock
Scientific Name: Erithacus rubecula
Scientific Family: Muscicapidae (Formerly Turdidae)

Appearance and Identification

These birds are familiar across Europe, and have a distinctive body shape and colors that make them easy to identify.

  • Bill: short, straight, pointed, black
  • Size: 5-6 inches long with 8-9-inch wingspan, round head, thick neck
  • Colors: buff, white, orange, olive brown, blue-gray
  • Markings: Genders are similar with an olive brown head, nape, back, tail, and wings. The orange face, throat, and upper breast may be faintly bordered by a blue-gray wash, particularly around the face. Underparts are buff or white with a faint orange wash along the flanks. Legs are pale. The dark eyes stand out in the face and often give this bird a curious or innocent expression.

Foods, Diet, and Foraging

European robins are insectivorous and eat a wide range of insects, including spiders. Worms are also part of their diet, and in autumn and winter, these birds will eat more fruit and berries when insects are difficult to find. While foraging, these robins will often follow gardeners and poke through recently upturned soil in search of tasty bugs.

Habitat and Migration

European robins can be easily found in open woodland areas as well as urban and suburban parks, gardens, and backyards. This is one of the most common garden birds in Europe, with year-round populations found in much of western Europe as well as the British Isles. Summer populations extend as far north as Scandinavia and west through much of northern Europe, while winter migrants may visit the edge of northern Africa and the Middle East.

Vocalizations

European robins are welcomed for their high pitched, warbling, flute-like song that ripples and rises at the end. Both genders may sing in the evenings and into the night, particularly after the nesting season ends. The typical alarm call is a rapid “tik-tik-tik-tik-tik.”

Behavior

Despite their friendly appearance and musical song, these can be solitary, aggressive, territorial birds. Populations in the British Isles are generally tamer and may even be fed by hand, but European robins elsewhere are often elusive and shy. These birds will puff out their orange chests in aggressive displays, and when confronted with other robins they may attack and injure their competitors. In some cases, European robins have even been known to attack their own reflections, especially during the spring and early summer when territories are being claimed.

Reproduction

These birds have various courtship behaviors to reduce the territorial aggression between mates. A common ritual is the male feeding the female, behavior that he generally continues through the incubation period as he cares for the female on the nest. Nests are built with moss, grasses, and bits of leaves, and may be lined with fur or down.

Nest placement is widely varied, and European robins can nest in many unusual places such as old pots, outdoor equipment, or any convenient niche. A mated pair can produce 2-3 broods of eggs each annually, which must be incubated for 12-14 days. The eggs are whitish, creamy, or buff, and are often speckled or splotched with reddish-brown flecks. Young birds are cared for by both parents for 14-16 days until they are ready to leave the nest.

Attracting European Robins

These intelligent birds have learned that gardeners turn up soil to make finding worms and insects easier, so they readily come to yards with small cultivated areas. Birders who leave loose mulch and soil available can attract these birds, and they will also come to tray feeders offering seed or mealworms. Avoid applying pesticides that may eliminate European robins’ food sources, and consider planting shrubs that yield berries for a winter food source.

Shrubs can also be great nesting sites to keep these robins in the yard year-round.

Conservation

These birds are widespread and not considered threatened or endangered, though some geographic populations are declining. Pesticide controls are essential to protect European robins, and habitat protection and preservation is also vital. Illegal hunting and poaching kills billions of songbirds crossing the Mediterranean Sea each year, including these perky robins, and international cooperation will be essential to protect them.

Similar Birds

  • Japanese Robin (Luscinia akahige)
  • Nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos)
  • American Robin (Turdus migratorius)