How the Robin Got its Name
Written by Bob Sundstrom
This is BirdNote!
Behind every bird name there is a story - and often a unique bit of history.
[American Robin song and whinny]
Consider our familiar American Robin, which lives throughout much of North America but is not found in Europe. When English settlers in the New World encountered this new bird, they saw in it a reflection of the bird they knew as the Robin – or Robin Redbreast – of the old country. So they called this one a Robin, too. The Robin of the British Isles [song of the European Robin] is a tiny bird with an orange face and upper breast, and only a distant relative of our much larger American Robin.
And there were more “robins” to come. One writer remarked: “Wherever the English have settled they have tended to bestow the name Robin on any bird with a noticeable amount of red or russet in the plumage.”(1) On this continent alone, bluebirds (which have some orange on the breast) were called Robin by the British, towhees were Ground Robins, and the Baltimore Oriole was called the Golden Robin.
Today the American and British Ornithological Unions work together to determine, among other things, how a given bird got its name.
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