A familiar bird, not just on Christmas cards, but in parks and gardens around the country, it would be hard to imagine any part of the UK where robins aren’t a common sight. But are robins as common as we think they are?
With a reputation as “friendly” birds, robins frequently nest close to human habitation. Does this mean they are less common in rural areas? We’ll be looking at these questions and more, as we investigate the key question: where do robins live?
In the UK, robins are regular visitors to garden bird tables, and often nest low down in shrubbery or dense vegetation in suburban back gardens, parks and woodlands. The species is widespread across Europe, from the British Isles to Siberia, and as far south as the coast of North Africa.
European pine and spruce forests provide an ideal breeding habitat for northern populations of the species, while in the UK, robins claim territories closer to human habitation, making their nests in all manner of natural – and not so natural – locations, including sheds, watering cans, and hanging baskets.
Some robin populations, particularly those that breed in the far north of Russia and Scandinavia, migrate to milder regions during winter, but the large majority are residents in their breeding territories all year round.
Read on to learn more about the preferred habitats of European robins (Erithacus rubecula), and discover some ideas that might help attract this tuneful bird to your back garden.
Robins are widespread across Europe, and even as far south as the North Coast of Africa
Robins are frequently dubbed “Britain’s best-loved bird”, and are common throughout the British Isles and Ireland. They are also widespread further afield too found throughout Europe, with their range extends deep into Russia, as far east as Western Siberia, and south-east into Iran.
The southernmost extent of the species’ range reaches the North African coast, with populations present in Algeria, while in the west, robins are resident on the Atlantic islands of the Azores and Madeira.
Robins are extremely common throughout the UK and Ireland
While the UK’s robins are a familiar sight in parks and gardens with mixed shrubbery and occasional tree cover, further into northern Europe, favoured habitats include pine and spruce forests.
Mixed hedgerows and woodland habitats support large numbers of European robins, and the species frequently claims territory in grasslands, shrubland, orchards, and farmland.
In the UK, Robins are frequently spotted in parks and gardens
In the UK, on average, there are said to be up to 250 breeding pairs of robins per square mile, so the chances of seeing one in your own garden are relatively high. In Scottish pine forests, the density of breeding pairs is much lower, with as few as 10 pairs per square mile.
Robins breed across Europe, with large populations across the continent, with large numbers in Russia, as well as across the UK, France, Spain, Germany and Scandinavia.
In 2000, the European population of robins was estimated at between 43 and 83 million pairs. The UK population is estimated at more than 600,000 breeding pairs
Perched European Robin, about to take off for flight
Lowland woodlands and parks and gardens provide habitat for large numbers of robins. Despite being highly territorial birds, European robins have a reputation as being at ease with human company, motivated by the association that human presence equals a good chance of food.
You don’t need to travel far to stand a good chance of spotting a European robin. The RSPB’s 2022 annual research data indicated the presence of robins in 82.5 percent of gardens taking part in the survey. The species is present throughout the UK, except for a couple of small areas of rocky uplands in the Scottish Highlands.
The British Trust for Ornithology’s 2019 survey states that central and southern England, and Wales have the highest number of regular garden sightings of robins, with red-breasted visitors being less of a common sight in gardens in northern England and in Scotland.
Robin perched on a frosty branch
Most populations of European robins remain in their home territories all year round. Some robins that breed in Britain and Ireland do migrate each winter, spending the colder months in southern France and Spain and North Africa’s Mediterranean coast, but these are a tiny majority of the country’s breeding population, and mainly consist of females, who lack the fierce territorial instinct of males, and travel south in search of unchallenged territories to feed in.
Robins that breed in Scandinavia, Russia and Iceland escape their breeding grounds’ coldest temperatures to spend winters in Britain, returning north in the spring to breed. Most populations that are resident across southern Europe do not migrate at all.
Most European Robins stay in the same place during the winter
The large majority of European robins are resident on their breeding territories all year round and are frequently seen and heard throughout the spring, until their breeding season draws to a close in late May.
You may be forgiven for believing that robins do a disappearing act in summer months, as they become rather reclusive and become much harder to spot. Once breeding is over, adult robins undergo their annual moult during July and August, temporarily losing their iconic red breast feathers while their new plumage grows in. During this time, they do their best to remain unseen, camouflaged in the undergrowth.
Migratory European robins arrive back on their breeding territories between January and February They will typically depart for their wintering grounds in autumn, with October and November being the most common months to begin their migration flights.
European Robin moulting
Robins are particularly fond of mealworms, earthworms and larvae, and are inquisitive, resourceful birds. Newly turned-over soil in a garden flower bed will often attract the attention of an opportunistic robin, who waits hopefully to hop over and investigate whether any fresh worms have made their way to the surface. Seeds and fruit will also attract foraging robins.
Areas of dense, wild shrubbery in a garden will offer a suitable, overgrown nesting spot for robins. Open-fronted nest boxes placed in an appropriate sheltered location may also attract robins at the start of the breeding season.
Robin searching for worms in freshly turned over soil, Devon, UK
Once their young have fledged, European robins no longer stay at their nest sites, tending instead to roost overnight in shrubbery, undergrowth and in the branches of trees. They also seek sheltered roosting spots that are out of danger from predators, such as window ledges or under eaves, where they rest for between 6 and 7 hours each night.
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