Things of Winter Beauty and Wonder: Advent Day Twelve

Day Twelve

Birds in the garden

As winter arrives a variety of migrant birds arrive in Britain; not just the overwintering geese for whom our climate is like a spa holiday compared to their usual honking grounds, but familiar birds like blackbirds, robins and starlings, come from continental Europe and beyond to take advantage of our milder weather and our love of feeding the wild birds. Blackbirds from the continent can be recognised by their brighter yellow beaks. Murmurations of starlings coming to roost make winter evenings spectaculr events. The robins’ song is a challenge to a death match, fighting over good territory.

But it’s a simple and beautiful thing to watch visiting birds feeding on a bird table; after pairing off for breeding, goldfinches and other small birds now group together in flocks. Many will huddle together in great roosts, hidden away in your shrubbery, sharing body heat like minute, temperate penguins.

The robin has featured on British Christmas cards for a long time, but despite folklore linking the robin to Christ on the cross, the reason for their link to Christmas is more prosaic and amusing. Originally the first postal delivery men in this country wore bright red coats, and became known as Robin Redbreasts, and since greetings cards for Christmas were delivered by Robins, it soon became a jokey theme to use the birds on the cards. As a child I remember a book called The Christmas Robin about a little bird who ended up in a house and perched on the top of the tree and sang on Christmas day; the connection has now become so strong that the robin is the quintessential Christmas bird.

5 thoughts on “Things of Winter Beauty and Wonder: Advent Day Twelve

  1. I will never forget my first English Christmas. In South Africa Robins came only on Christmas cards, and snow likewise. Our Christmas was devoid of turkey( much too hot) devoid of plum pudding ( much too rich) and so the ‘image of that composite portrait was Dickens ( always read aloud A Christmas Carol) while longing for the sea or a pool, and fanning nudity with a book. On the first Christmas in England we were invited to Essex to stay with friends of friends and arrived after dark on Christmas eve. No snow, but thatch, and the sort of cottage appropriate to an advent calendar.
    Waking upon Christmas morning opened window onto a landscape pillowed in snow, outside a holly tree, on tree conspicuous robin. I was very impressed with England’s organisation, but found it pretty hard to swallow that not only an Empire, but time itself was so well managed.


      • It certainly felt that way. All of literature conspired too, having carefully layered expectations, it equally carefully un-layered them! All were pristine, ironed, un-stained. England was as Shakespeare had described for Saint Crispin’s day, and Betjeman presided in the village pub. It was all beyond belief! Took years to get used to it.


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