THE ROBIN is one of our best known and best loved birds. Adults are unmistakeable with their rusty-red bib which covers the entire breast and face. The sexes have identical plumage and, unusually, both females and males hold separate territories during the winter.
On the ground a robin droops its wings and hops rapidly. In cold weather it can look rather tubby as it fluffs up its feathers as insulation from the cold. The diet is mainly insects and other invertebrates, such as worms and snails.
Robins breed over most of Britain, and the familiar bird of our Christmas cards is of the British and Irish race. These are browner above and have more vividly-coloured breasts compared to the robins arriving in Shetland, which belong to the European race, and probably originate from Scandinavian populations.
Robins in northern parts of Europe are migratory and these continental birds are widespread autumn passage migrants to the Northern Isles and along North Sea coasts. There is little evidence that these birds over-winter in mainland Scotland but, since 1970, small numbers have been recorded in winter in Shetland.
Up to 50 may be present throughout the isles, and these robins are probably lingering autumn migrants, although fresh influxes have been recorded even as late as December.
Robins are particularly photogenic when posed in a snowy landscape, but their depiction on Christmas cards originates from Victorian times. Nineteenth century postmen wore a bright red waistcoat as part of their uniform and were nicknamed robins.
On some Christmas cards the robin was shown delivering the mail with its beak. There is also a Christian legend which tells of the robin helping to pull out some of the thorns from the Crown of Thorns resulting in the reddening of its breast and the bird being blessed by Christ.
In the last week of December there are still a few migrants such as the shore lark at Unst on the 17th. Shore larks are very scarce passage migrants from Scandinavia. And there are only a few isolated Scottish records of the species during the winter months. There were a couple of greenfinches and a few common redpolls in Lerwick with a skylark and two robins recorded on Out Skerries. The total of Iceland gulls at the Shetland Catch was eight with two glaucous.
Wildfowl records included a goosander in Unst, three pochards on Tingwall and two common scoters at Grutness.
In this last column of the year I would like to thank everyone who has provided me with wildlife news, including the shetland nature website, and wish you all a happy festive season.