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My wife says robins migrate - I say NO! Who is right?

Sent in by Denzil R. Perry, Dorset

In a way, you are both right!

European robins (Erithacus rubecula) live throughout Europe (except in the far north), Russia and western Siberia. British and Irish robins are largely sedentary, and most do not move more than 5km. Those that do are usually adult males moving between their breeding and winter territories.

However, some UK robins, mostly females, will cross the Channel to spend their winters in warmer climes, in some cases as far south as southern Spain and Portugal. Continental birds also pass through on the east coast of the UK on passage further south.

At the same time, our resident birds are joined by immigrants from Scandinavia, continental Europe and Russia, which come to the UK to avoid the severe winters there. These visiting birds are generally paler in colour and are less 'tame' than UK birds. This is likely to be because in their home countries they are woodland birds and have less contact with humans.

Much research has been carried out into the lives of robins and it has revealed that they are one of the few UK species that sing all year round. Both males and females sing to declare and defend their own individual territories outside the breeding season, and their songs are more or less identical.

Around Christmas-time, robins begin to explore other robins' territories in the hope of finding a mate. The majority will have paired up by mid-January and the females will stop their territorial singing. However, the males will continue to sing to declare the 'ownership' of what has now become a joint future breeding territory; one which they will fight to the death to defend - in some populations, up to 10% of adult mortality is accounted for by territorial disputes. 

On occasions, robins will sing long into the night, especially in urban areas where there are streetlights. They are often the earliest birds to start the dawn chorus and one of the last to stop in the evening.

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