The real robin of Sherwood Forest

When you think of Sherwood Forest, what’s the first thing that pops into your head?

Most likely you’ll envision vivid scenes of the chivalrous Robin Hood and his band of merry men springing over the fungi-ridden forest rug, wielding skilfully constructed bows and arrows on a gallant quest to rob the rich and distribute goods to the poor.

Much like the sturdy roots of the majestic Major Oak, the legend of Robin Hood is intrinsically connected to the auburn canopy of Sherwood Forest. Each year a whopping 350,000 tourists tug on their walking boots, whip out their raincoats and flock to this historic site oozing in folklore and mystery, to explore the archaic stomping ground of the UK’s most infamous outlaw.

Yet, unbeknownst to some visitors, Sherwood Forest is home to another notorious bandit: the European robin (Erithacus rubecula).

Robin by Liz Mitchel, RSPB Images

These fuzzy characters are Christmas card perfection with their fire-red breasts and enthralling sonatas, rendering them undoubtedly the country’s favourite garden bird species. Their inherent beauty, tenacity and zest for life make them a popular player in the natural world.

Here are three thrilling tidbits about this beloved bird to make you fall in love with the alternative Robin of Sherwood…

1. They are feisty characters…

Despite their whimsical and sociable charade, these cheeky chaps are highly defensive when it comes to protecting their home and breeding area from dubious outsiders. The distinctive burnt-orange breast that the nation adores provides a valuable evolutionary function that both sexes use to resolve territorial quarrels.

Robins can occupy the same breeding range throughout their tiny lives, and need to employ fierce protection strategies to defend their territory throughout the entirety of the winter period; so both sexes continue to sing throughout the season to ferociously drive away trespassers. These vicious villains have been reported to confront chunks of orange plumages – or in some circumstances their own reflection – if they confuse it for an unknown robin.

2. …But they benefit from socialising with humans

When you next venture to Sherwood Forest, keep a beady eye out for any robins loitering in the branches and watching your every move. But don’t worry, they don’t want to hurt you – in fact, robins and humans have a long history together, and they use us to locate vital food sources.

These cunning creatures are well-known for shadowing humans, monitoring closely as soil is disrupted under our feet and numerous invertebrates are unearthed and exposed as a scrummy, accessible meal. This ingenious behaviour originated in European woodlands where wild boar foraged for food in the earth, and the robin cleverly co-evolved to track large animals so they could rummage for uncovered food left on their path – essentially, robins see us as wild boars serving them a delicious portion of earthworm linguine.

3. They are positive omens

The robin is often regarded as a spiritual bird, bringing positivity and enlightenment to those who witness them perched on a thin branch peering out from a thicket of trees. Legend has it that a robin was pierced by Jesus’ crown of thorns whilst he was dying on the cross, producing the vibrant feathers that embellish their breast whilst simultaneously giving them celestial status in the avian world.

Effectively the spiritual connotation of a robin embodies personal development, regeneration, transformation, and new beginnings. The robin’s euphonious melody welcomes the arrival of spring and sparks the onset of spectacular ecological transformations; flowers blossom, babies are born, and the earth is invigorated. What’s more, the sight of a robin symbolises the need for a transformation in our individual lives, encouraging us to be bold, brave and beautiful, just like a robin is.

So next time you see a robin flitting around Sherwood Forest be sure to give it a smile, a nod, or a wave, and enjoy their soulful chorus as they welcome an enchanting new chapter in the natural world.