With their bright red breast and hearty song, robins have long been associated with Christmas, and there are a variety of theories explaining why the bird is the feathered figurehead of the season.

In Victorian times, postmen wore red jackets and became known as ‘robins’. As a result, the bird began appearing on Christmas cards depicted as a festive messenger delivering well wishes. The association with Christmas stuck and now robins adorn everything from greetings cards to crackers.

Some historians say the association was forged much earlier than this, right back to the birth of Jesus. It is believed that a brown bird fanned the flames of a fire to keep the newborn baby Jesus warm. Scorched by the fire, the breast of the bird turned red forever.

Whatever the reason, one thing is for sure: the robin is cherished by nature-lovers up and down the country, and a wonderful familiar sight to see around the Forest. Up to 85 per cent of us have robins visiting our gardens, and they are probably the UK’s most recognised bird - in 2015, the feisty fellow was voted Britain’s national bird.

Interestingly, it is likely that some of the red-breasted visitors you have in your garden in winter are not the same as those you’ve seen in summer.

During the colder months, resident birds are joined by robins from Scandinavia, Europe and Russia looking to avoid the harsh winter in their own countries. Conversely, some British robins cross the Channel to escape to warmer climes.

Robins are common in Britain, and are found throughout the countryside, in woods and in hedgerows, as well as in gardens. Their abundance is partly due to their adaptability: they will build their nests anywhere where there is a hollow or ledge, often low to or even on the ground.

You can find robins nesting in the crook of a tree or bush or in a hollow amongst roots. Hollows in steep banks are another favourite, as are ivy-covered trees and walls or fences. They have even been known to nest amongst the leaf litter on woodland floors.

They are, however, perhaps most famous for utilising unusual objects and locations as their chosen nesting sites, and there are numerous reports of robins nesting in sheds, flowerpots, lighting fixtures, garden ornaments and window boxes.

Robins will attempt to nest two or three times a year, starting in late March and going all the way through to June or July. They lay clutches of up to six creamy white eggs with brown speckles. Young birds develop their red chests around at two to three months old – their juvenile buff brown plumage protecting them from attacks from adult birds.

Robins have the rather wonderful habit of singing throughout the year, even in the dreariest of winter months. While providing an uplifting melody for us, the song has a more important function for the birds – defending its territory and attracting a mate during the breeding season. Robin territories are around half an acre, and in summer this is defended by a mated pair. In winter, the solitary male will defend his patch.

Despite their friendly image, robins are fiercely territorial.

Battles begin with birds singing loudly at each other, and puffing out their breasts to show off their prowess. A physical challenge often  ensues, which can result in injury or even death.

A famous series of experiments by influential ornithologist David Lack in the 1930s showed that robins would viciously attack stuffed robins placed around their territories and inflict significant damage. There are numerous accounts of robins attacking windows thinking they are seeing a rival bird, and also attacking plumes of red feathers. Clearly, colour is an important factor in their territorial behaviour – they literally ‘see red’!

The territorial nature of robins shouldn’t make us look too unfavourably upon them though. Birds and other animals don’t have an easy life. It is a constant struggle to find food and to raise young, especially in winter when natural food is scarce.

If you want to give our feisty friends and fellow garden birds a helping hand to get through the colder months, put some food out in your garden and make sure there is fresh water available.

Robins are ground feeders, so feeding trays on the ground are ideal, or a bird table. They’re particularly fond of mealworms, either live or dried. They’ll also take a general bird seed mix, sunflower hearts, suet seed cakes and small amounts of cheese.

If you’d like to befriend a Christmas robin, another way to attract them is to get digging. Robins love nothing more than a tasty worm or two and aren’t shy about swooping in to seize one that has been unearthed while tending to your garden. Failing that, if you want to stay wrapped up warm or the ground is frozen, a ready supply of mealworm will also be just fine!

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