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The Robin: A Biography

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No other bird is quite so ever-present and familiar, so embedded in our culture, as the robin. With more than six million breeding pairs, the robin is second only to the wren as Britain’s most common bird. It seems to live its life alongside us, in every month and season of the year. But how much do we really know about this bird? In The Robin Stephen Moss records a year of No other bird is quite so ever-present and familiar, so embedded in our culture, as the robin. With more than six million breeding pairs, the robin is second only to the wren as Britain’s most common bird. It seems to live its life alongside us, in every month and season of the year. But how much do we really know about this bird? In The Robin Stephen Moss records a year of observing the robin both close to home and in the field to shed light on the hidden life of this apparently familiar bird. We follow its lifecycle from the time it enters the world as an egg, through its time as a nestling and juvenile, to the adult bird; via courtship, song, breeding, feeding, migration – and ultimately, death. At the same time we trace the robin's relationship with us: how did this particular bird – one of more than 300 species in its huge and diverse family - find its way so deeply and permanently into our nation’s heart and its social and cultural history? It’s a story that tells us as much about ourselves as it does about the robin itself.


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No other bird is quite so ever-present and familiar, so embedded in our culture, as the robin. With more than six million breeding pairs, the robin is second only to the wren as Britain’s most common bird. It seems to live its life alongside us, in every month and season of the year. But how much do we really know about this bird? In The Robin Stephen Moss records a year of No other bird is quite so ever-present and familiar, so embedded in our culture, as the robin. With more than six million breeding pairs, the robin is second only to the wren as Britain’s most common bird. It seems to live its life alongside us, in every month and season of the year. But how much do we really know about this bird? In The Robin Stephen Moss records a year of observing the robin both close to home and in the field to shed light on the hidden life of this apparently familiar bird. We follow its lifecycle from the time it enters the world as an egg, through its time as a nestling and juvenile, to the adult bird; via courtship, song, breeding, feeding, migration – and ultimately, death. At the same time we trace the robin's relationship with us: how did this particular bird – one of more than 300 species in its huge and diverse family - find its way so deeply and permanently into our nation’s heart and its social and cultural history? It’s a story that tells us as much about ourselves as it does about the robin itself.

30 review for The Robin: A Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    Fiona

    A delightful book, beautifully illustrated, following the life and breeding cycle of the robin, consistently voted Britain’s favourite bird, through the year. It’s divided into twelve chapters for the months of the year and comprehensively explores every aspect of robins from folklore to behaviour to breeding and migration patterns to their relationship with humans. Moss even explains why robins are such a common feature on Christmas cards. It’s because in Victorian times, postmen wore a red uni A delightful book, beautifully illustrated, following the life and breeding cycle of the robin, consistently voted Britain’s favourite bird, through the year. It’s divided into twelve chapters for the months of the year and comprehensively explores every aspect of robins from folklore to behaviour to breeding and migration patterns to their relationship with humans. Moss even explains why robins are such a common feature on Christmas cards. It’s because in Victorian times, postmen wore a red uniform and were nicknamed ‘robins’ so the bird became a symbol for postmen which is why they are sometimes portrayed holding envelopes in their beaks. This will be a lovely book to keep on my bookshelf and dip back into from time to time. A very enjoyable read.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Penny

    4.5 We have many birds visiting our country garden but my favourite (and indeed the nation's favourite) has to be the robin. I already knew that behind the sweet façade lurks a sometimes savage bird, prepared to defend its territory at whatever cost. Moss takes us month by month through the life of a robin and I discovered something new on every page. Very well written, it is a great mixture of ornithology, folklore and poetry. A lovely looking book, high quality, creamy paper, beautiful illustrati 4.5 We have many birds visiting our country garden but my favourite (and indeed the nation's favourite) has to be the robin. I already knew that behind the sweet façade lurks a sometimes savage bird, prepared to defend its territory at whatever cost. Moss takes us month by month through the life of a robin and I discovered something new on every page. Very well written, it is a great mixture of ornithology, folklore and poetry. A lovely looking book, high quality, creamy paper, beautiful illustrations and even a red ribbon to mark your place as you read. Would make an excellent present although the print size is very small.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Tracy

    This book is beautifully illustrated and gives you a month by month account of a robin's life. Lots of interesting facts and also folklore. I love robins!

  4. 5 out of 5

    Amanda

    While I enjoyed the seasonal organization of the book, somehow I didn’t enjoy the writing style. It didn’t flow well between robin behavior and their place in our culture. This made it easy to put down and not pick up again. Fortunately, it’s a short and beautifully produced book, two very redeeming qualities. Perhaps being American and having no experience with robins meant I wasn’t the target audience.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Sylvia

    A Robin Redbreast in a Cage, Puts all Heaven in a Rage. A very accurate poem by William Blake also quoted in this book which was a delight. I love birds, but I think even if you are not specifically interested in nature or birds this book will enlighten you and make you smile. It will make you look different at every Robin you will encounter or any bird in general. This book describes the life of a Robin month by month in a beautiful way. It is full of science and research and history, A Robin Redbreast in a Cage, Puts all Heaven in a Rage. A very accurate poem by William Blake also quoted in this book which was a delight. I love birds, but I think even if you are not specifically interested in nature or birds this book will enlighten you and make you smile. It will make you look different at every Robin you will encounter or any bird in general. This book describes the life of a Robin month by month in a beautiful way. It is full of science and research and history, but is never boring or dense. He moves forward, each tiny hop leaving behind a pair of prints etched into the crystalline white: three tiny toes in front and one behind.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Marcel Uljee

    ‘For many millennia, our ancestors would marvel at the miracle of migration [...] Aristotle [...] believed that in winter the redstart, a summer visitor to Greece, changed into a robin. This mistake persisted for almost two thousand years.’ (p. 163-164)

  7. 4 out of 5

    John Ollerton

    Of course it is a lovely book. My son Andrew only picks great books

  8. 4 out of 5

    Linda Dielemans

    A lovely read (very British though) about a (sometimes not so) lovely bird. Very enjoyable, although I have to correct the author: continental robins are just as curious and fond of gardens and gardeners as the British ones!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Christien

    A very English book, and surprisingly interesting. Honestly, robins are pretty hardcore.

  10. 4 out of 5

    George Cook

    Cute little book about Robins. I do like Robins so I liked the book

  11. 4 out of 5

    Kim

    I cannot fault this book. As the robin is my favourite bird (and I know I’m not alone!), I thought I knew a lot about them. This book, however, taught me so much more. I feel like I “know” the robin even better now. The book is very interesting, looks absolutely beautiful and is incredibly well told. Stephen Moss’ love for robins (as well as birds and nature in general) shines through on every page. I cannot wait to read more of his work.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Gordon

    I think Stephen Moss may have become my new favourite non-fiction writer. I first came across him in his book Wonderland, co-written with Brett Westwood, and this book The Robin: An Autobiography was given to me as a present because I enjoyed it. Arranged in twelve chapters, one for each month of the year, it shines a light on the many facets of a very common bird which is both easily seen and heard in Britain – though not so much, it seems, in Europe or elsewhere. There are surprises everywhere I think Stephen Moss may have become my new favourite non-fiction writer. I first came across him in his book Wonderland, co-written with Brett Westwood, and this book The Robin: An Autobiography was given to me as a present because I enjoyed it. Arranged in twelve chapters, one for each month of the year, it shines a light on the many facets of a very common bird which is both easily seen and heard in Britain – though not so much, it seems, in Europe or elsewhere. There are surprises everywhere (I'm about to spoil a couple, though). Even its name 'robin' is relatively recent – for centuries known as 'redbreasts', Victorians nicknamed them 'robin redbreasts', as they did 'tom tits' or 'jenny wren'. Moss reveals how the bird became associated with Christmas. And of course there are masses of more scientific observations about their migrations, territorial battles and life-and-death struggles, often told in the form of anecdotes from his own back garden or from a walk in the countryside. Moss writes in the style of the Guardian Countryside Notes, quietly-written essays in beautiful English. Not long, great present.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Bex

    A beautifully written and illustrated book that made a delightful Yuletide gift from a friend. The robin's lifecycle is structured in the book using the calendar year, with the author flitting off occasionally to explore the myths and anecdotes surrounding the robin and its habits, life, and connection to humans. The only reason I haven't given it five stars is because I would have preferred more technical information (particularly about the incubation and hatching process of eggs and young chic A beautifully written and illustrated book that made a delightful Yuletide gift from a friend. The robin's lifecycle is structured in the book using the calendar year, with the author flitting off occasionally to explore the myths and anecdotes surrounding the robin and its habits, life, and connection to humans. The only reason I haven't given it five stars is because I would have preferred more technical information (particularly about the incubation and hatching process of eggs and young chicks), but I suppose this dearth is understandable in a book intended for a lay audience. Definitely worth a read if you'd like to get to know and understand your little red-breasted neighbours better!

  14. 5 out of 5

    Natasha

    This was a surprisingly touching and beautiful book. I'll be honest, I'm not at all a fan of non-fiction and wasn't persuaded I would like this book (even if it is about robins) very much. But I was definitely wrong. This book has made me look at my own garden robin completely differently now, and has taught me things about robins I never knew. It gives fascinating information, facts, opinions, myths, stories and theories about the bird that were so readable. The Robin: A Biography was a light, This was a surprisingly touching and beautiful book. I'll be honest, I'm not at all a fan of non-fiction and wasn't persuaded I would like this book (even if it is about robins) very much. But I was definitely wrong. This book has made me look at my own garden robin completely differently now, and has taught me things about robins I never knew. It gives fascinating information, facts, opinions, myths, stories and theories about the bird that were so readable. The Robin: A Biography was a light, fascinating, touching book and definitely one I will be revisiting in the near future.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    3.5, really. While endearing and enormously interesting, Moss definitely is a little too sentimental at times for my taste. Some of his throwaway statements and claims are also dubious, and there is a lot of namedropping. I would still read his other books as he clearly knows a lot about birds and puts together a useful and lovely book for the layman bird friend.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Silvia Põldaru

    Such an adorable little book. It has definitely made me more aware of birdsongs in my garden and on my walks.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Hester Clara

    Beautifully presented and clearly the result of much love for our garden friends. I liked the structure of the book by month, and enjoyed following the development of our robins.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jan Duthie

    Both charming and informative. It’s not often these two arrive together.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Robin

    What a sweet and enlightening book!

  20. 5 out of 5

    Elsbeth Kwant

    A nice little book about Robin Redbreast, teaching me enough to suddenly recognize a perky youngster without the red breast.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Mark McKenny

    Enjoyed that. Didn't actually learn THAT much about the robin, but it's not really that kind of book. Onto the Wren now!

  22. 5 out of 5

    Steph Pomfrett

    A lovely book describing a year in the life of Britain's favourite bird

  23. 4 out of 5

    Nick Oxley

    Absolute perfection. A wonderful read.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Lynda

    A lovely little book with some great facts about one of Britain's favourite little birds. Lot's of beautiful illustrations and a must for all Robin lovers!

  25. 5 out of 5

    Toffeeapple

    What's not to love? Robins and anything by Stephen Moss equals happiness for me.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jenny Hemming

    Totally loves reading this over the course of the year, one chapter a month. Lots of excellent Robin-y facts and anecdotes to help you get to know your best feathered friend.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Caroline

    I thoroughly enjoyed this account of the life of many people’s favourite bird. Fascinating, and full of great pictures too.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

    Learnt so much about a bird I have grown so fond of in my garden.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Alison

    This book is all the things I love. Birds, especially Robins, beautifully illustrated and laid out and a wonderful seasonal choice. Just perfect for this time of year.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Kris

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The robin is my favourite bird, so I am clearly biased, but I still learnt an awful lot of things I didn't know previously. I particularly liked the way the author intertwines the details of the robin's life cycle from January to December with information about the bird's role in folklore, myths and other aspects of culture. Apart from the interesting content of this book, this edition makes for a wonderful gift. It is full of colourful illustrations, which make the I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The robin is my favourite bird, so I am clearly biased, but I still learnt an awful lot of things I didn't know previously. I particularly liked the way the author intertwines the details of the robin's life cycle from January to December with information about the bird's role in folklore, myths and other aspects of culture. Apart from the interesting content of this book, this edition makes for a wonderful gift. It is full of colourful illustrations, which make the perusal of this volume a joy.

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