Robin Redbreast

PERHAPS one of my youngest readers will be ready to say, "Oh, you surely need not describe our very familiar acquaintance, the bold and social little Robin. Who does not know him by his beautiful scarlet breast? And surely every one living in the country has made him a particular friend during the cold winter months. Who at that season has not enticed him, and perhaps his young brood too, first on to the window-sill, then inside the house, until at last grown familiar, he has even perched upon the table and fed upon the crumbs? But bold as he is in winter, there are few birds more shy and unobtrusive during the summer months; and it is not until autumn has far advanced that he loses his retiring habits. Then it is, as the poet has beautifully said,
“Wisely regardful of the embroiling sky,
In joyless fields and thorny thickets leaves
His shivering mates, and pays to trusty man
His annual visit. Half afraid, he first
Against the window beats; then brisk alights
On the warm hearth; then hopping o'er the
Eyes all the family askance,
And pecks, and starts, and wonders where he is;
Till more familiar grown, the table crumbs
Attract his slender feet.”
The Robin is truly an English bird; he braves out the winter's cold and unlike so many of our best singing birds, he never leaves our shores. In early spring he is marvelously busy preparing his nest. Like the Lark and the Nightingale, he has lowly thoughts about his home, and generally finds some retired snug spot near or on the ground. But he is very particular as to this, and he must be a most expert birdnester (which I sincerely hope none of my readers are) who can discover a Robin's nest. They select spots where the foliage is thick on the ground, and if this is hard to find, they have been observed to accumulate a quantity of dry leaves and scatter them around so as to form an artificial concealment. Insects of nearly all kinds are the favorite food of the Robin, but when these fail he will pick up grain, crumbs, or indeed anything that is eatable.
They destroy an immense number of insects as they alight to deposit their eggs on the embryo buds, the chase after which they continue as long as the insect is to be found on the wing, and when they are gone they make a raid upon their eggs, and so, what with the number they destroy, and those they prevent coming into existence, they prove great enemies to the insect tribe.
The personal beauty, the sprightly movements, his cheerful carol, the quick, interesting way in which, especially in winter, he will hop near to you and watch your every movement, and his great familiarity, make the Robin a general favorite; and perhaps there are few birds, about which so many pleasing and interesting stories are told. So tame are they, that they will enter our houses, perch on our shoulders, feed from our hands, and if we give them the least encouragement, the same birds will return year after year, and will seem to know again the people who have been kind to them.
Hundreds of stories, beginning with that touching one which every child has read, the "Babes in the wood," have been told about the Robin.
You will all remember that our king, William IV had been a sailor; well, he was fond of naval relics, so he kept in his grounds in Bushey Park a part of the mast against which Lord Nelson was leaning when he received, in the moment of victory, his death-wound. In that same mast, a large shot had passed through, and in this hole, while the mast was in the park, two Robins built their nest and reared their young. The relic is now in the King's armory at Windsor Castle; and for anything I know, the little nest may be there too.
There is a story told of a little Robin who became very familiar with a golden eagle that had been caught in Ireland and was fastened by a chain. It regularly visited this eagle at feeding time; when the king of birds descended from his perch to receive his dinner, the Robin coolly took his place on the perch. It would then hop on his chain, fearless and unhurt, and joined the eagle at his dinner.
Two ladies fed a Robin through the winter, and when spring came put a box outside the window, and anxiously watched to see what it would do. It seemed at once to understand their wish, and immediately began to build its nest, and there, I have no doubt to the great delight of the ladies, it reared its young. A slate trap had been set to catch birds, and a Robin was observed perched outside it. On the trap being opened, another Robin was found caught within. The captive was carried into the house, but its friend instantly followed, and gave the captor no peace till the captive was set at liberty, when the two flew off happily together.
Still another tale is told of two male Robins being captured and placed in one cage, but from the first, I am sorry to say, they did nothing but quarrel and fight. At length, one of them by some accident broke his leg and became a cripple. From that moment, not only did their enmity cease, but the sound one paid towards his suffering companion every possible attention, feeding and caring for him, with all the tenderness of an affectionate nurse.
And yet, to be faithful, I am forced to make a sad confession about our mutual friend, and that is that after all, at particular times of the year, when they are selecting their mates, they are exceedingly quarrelsome one with another, and will fight with great fury. This however, does not last long, and all at once they seem to settle all causes of dispute and become again very friendly.
I have placed him among our English singing birds, and his song is by all admitted to be very sweet. Pennant says, "Its song is remarkably fine and soft, and the more to be valued, as we enjoy it the greatest part of the winter and early in the spring, and even through great part of the summer, but its notes are part of that time drowned in the general warble of the forest. Many of the autumnal songsters seem to be the young cock Redbreasts of that year.”
“Come, sweetest of the feathered throng,
And soothe me with thy plaintive song;
Come to my cot devoid of fear,
No danger shall await thee here.
No prowling cat with whiskered face,
Approaches this sequestered place;
No schoolboy with his willow bow
Shall aim at thee the murderous blow;
No wily lim'd twig ere molest
Thy olive wing or crimson breast.
Thy cup, sweet bird, I'll daily fill
At yonder, cressy, bubbling rill.
Thy board shall plenteously be spread
With crumblets of the nicest bread;
And when rude winter comes, and shows
His icicles and shivering snows,
Hop o'er my cheery hearth, and be
One of my peaceful family;
Then soothe me with thy peaceful song
Thou sweetest of the feathered throng.”