It is January and safe to be honest about robins.

Many fanciful depictions of robins have dropped through our letter boxes recently and many strange images are sold having little resemblance to the real bird.

Originally called ‘the redbreast’ before the word for orange (the real colour of their breasts) came to this country with the import of exotic fruit in the 16th century, ‘robin’ had become the more common name by the 1850s. This is when they became associated with Christmas when postmen wearing their red jackets were nicknamed ‘robins’.

It has been voted our ‘favourite’ bird being one of the few birds that everyone can recognise and although they may look agreeable I’ve recently noticed behaviour that is positively aggressive. This view is challenged by the experts claiming they are no more aggressive (ie territorial) than other birds and only seem so in contrast with their friendly reputation.

Maybe but our garden dunnock gets chased off every time the robin notices it eating the seeds scattered on the patio although there is plenty for all. It seems they tend to challenge birds which compete for the same food.

Robins hover round gardeners, perch on abandoned spades looking for worms in turned soil , a habit which originated when they followed wild boar, natural rotavators, in forests of old. I love being mistaken for a wild boar!

Both song and colour is usually about mating and territory. Males and female look alike and both sing beautifully throughout the year, energetically in Spring and more ‘plaintively’ in winter. It is essential for survival to hold onto their territory. Orange is a ‘threat’ colour announcing ‘keep out’ and when singing they can sway from side to side displaying the chest menacingly.

City birds tend to be more aggressive as it’s thought traffic noise interferes with their song and they have to find other ways of getting their message across resulting in avian fisticuffs. Up to 10% of robin deaths are due to such fights and they rarely live long lives, being particularly susceptible to harsh winters. Most last about a year though one 19 year old is on record.

The choice seems to be between dying in the snow in Britain or holidaying and being put in a pot in Cyprus where, in 2009, 700,000 overwintering songbirds were trapped and eaten in a delicacy called ‘ambelopoulia’.

But, on a happier note, here you can go outside to see and hear a robin at any time including right now.