The birds of the air and the beasts of the ﬁeld! (part1)
No doubt by now you have received Christmas cards, either in paper or electronic form, I am being that on many of them you will have seen pictures of robins and on a few some reindeers drawing Santa’s sleigh.
The robin is a species of bird related closely to the true thrushes that I talked about last time and holds a very dear place in most people’ hearts. It is a bold little upright bird that seems to ﬁx us with a bright twinkling black eye – as if to say what food have you got for me today? Many gardeners will have struck up a close relationship with their local robin in the spring and summer months and the birds are very bold and will approach closely to get any tasty morsel turned over by fork or spade. When I started bird-watching I was told that our robins are very tame compared with continental birds that appear to keep themselves tucked away in woodlands.
My old gran, who had a lot of wonderful sayings (some of which I have not deciphered even up to today!) used to be somewhat afraid of robins. She said that if a robin got in the house it was a sign of a death to come. In my grandparents’ home there was no garden but just a paved yard leading on to outhouses and the cellar stairs. Even so a robin used to come round to see what it could get.
I have pulled a few robin stories from the internet and pasted them in below.
One fable suggests that when the baby Jesus was in his manger in the stable, the ﬁre which had been lit to keep him warm started to blaze up very strongly.
A brown robin noticing that Mary had been distracted by the inn-keeper’s wife, placed himself between the ﬁre and the face of baby Jesus. The robin ﬂuﬀed out its feathers to protect the baby, but in so-doing its breast was scorched by the ﬁre. This redness was then passed onto future generations of robins.
Another story suggests that a robin pulled a thorn from the crown of Christ whilst he was on the cross and that it was Christ’s blood that created the bird’s red breast.
The robin is one of three British birds which have red in their plumage and have an association with resurrection, the other two are the swallow and goldﬁnch. The robin is commemorated on Glasgow's coat of arms as 'the bird that never ﬂew'.
It is said that St Surf of Kinross was befriended by a robin and when he prayed the robin would come and sit on his head or shoulder. Some of his disciples became jealous of the attention given to the robin and killed the bird but one of his followers, Kentigern, who became St Mungo founder of Glasgow Cathedral in the sixth century, prayed over the bird and restored it to life.
(Thanks to SAGA magazine and Dave Chapman.)