1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Redbreast

REDBREAST,[1] or Robin. perhaps the favourite among English birds because of its pleasing colour, its sagacity and fearlessness of man, and its cheerful song, even in winter. In July and August the hedgerows of the southern counties of England are beset with redbreasts, not in flocks, but each individual keeping its own distance from the next[2]—all, however, on their way to cross the Channel. On the European continent the migration is still more marked, and the redbreast on its autumnal and vernal passages is the object of bird-catchers, since its value as a delicacy has long been recognized. Even those redbreasts which stay in Britain during the winter are subject to a migratory movement. The first sharp frost makes them change their habitation, and a heavy fall of of snow drives them towards the homesteads for food. The redbreast exhibits a curious uncertainty of temperament in regard to its nesting habits. At times it will place the utmost confidence in man, and at times show the greatest jealousy. The nest is usually built of moss and dead leaves, with a moderate lining of hair. In this are laid from five to seven white eggs, sprinkled or blotched with light red.

Besides the British Islands, the redbreast (Motacilla rubecula of Linnaeus and the Erithacus rubecula of modern authors) is generally dispersed over the continent of Europe, and is in winter found in the oases of the Sahara. Its eastern limits are not well determined. In northern Persia it is replaced by a nearly allied form, Erithacus hyrcanus, distinguishable by its more ruddy hues, while in northern China and Japan another species, E. akahige, is found of which the sexes differ somewhat in plumage—the cock having a blackish band below his red breast and greyish-black flanks, while the hen closely resembles the familiar British species—but both cock and hen have the tail of chestnut-red. The genus Erithacus, as well as that containing the other birds to which the name "robin" has been applied, with the doubtful exception of Petroeca, belong to the sub-family Turdinae of the thrushes (q.v.).

  1. English colonists in distant lands have applied the common nickname of the redbreast to other birds that are not immediately allied to it. The ordinary "robin" of North America is a thrush, Turdus migratorius (see Fieldfare), and one of the bluebirds of the same continent, Sialia sialis, is in ordinary speech the blue robin"; the Australian and Pacific "robins" of the genus Petroeca are of doubtful affinity and have not all even the red breast; the Cape "robin" is Cossaphya caffra, the Indian "robin" Thamnobia and the New Zealand "robin" Miro.
  2. It is a very old saying that Unum arbustum non alit duos erithacos—One bush does not harbour two redbreasts.