Monday, March 06, 2006

The Englishness of the robin

click photo to enlarge
Here's a question. Why do companies queue up to be the "official whatever" of the Olympic Games? You know the sort of thing - the official camera, phone, wrist watch, soft drink, airline, dental floss, toilet paper (alright I exaggerate). I can't imagine anyone buys a product because it has the Olympic branding associated with it for a few months - or do they? The companies must feel they are getting something from the rights that they buy. And where did this idea come from?

Perhaps it's linked with nations associating themselves with plants, creatures and colours. And where does that come from? Does it derive from heraldry? This train of thought popped into my head after an Indian friend of my son's had asked him about England's national bird. My son asked me what it was, and I said, "I don't know, but it should be the robin." I know the United States sees the bald eagle as its national bird, Australia has the emu, and Germany the white stork. But England? So I did some research, but could find no consistent answer. However, what became clear is that the robin is our favourite bird by far!

I took this hand-held photograph of this robin on a snowy March day with a zoom lens set at 300mm. The bird followed my wife and I along a fence by the edge of a wood near Garstang, Lancashire, perhaps hoping to be tossed some morsel, or maybe looking for anything edible that we disturbed with our feet. The physical closeness that robins grant people, particularly in winter, is part of their attraction. The English, being a nation of gardeners, often have the robin as a companion when they are turning the soil. Their song, which can be heard throughout the year, and the soft colours of their plumage are also factors in their appeal. It's not a big, brash, or fierce-looking bird, like so many national birds. No, the robin is friendly, makes a lot of noise for a small bird, seems to be everywhere you go, but can be pugnacious when defending its territory. Perhaps the robin is popular because the English see some of their own characteristics in this little bird!
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen