How the Robin Got His Red Breast (based on an Irish folk tale)

retold by Cathy S. Mosley

Many years ago, late in the year, a cruel wind brought biting cold weather; making the night more bitter for a father and son who had traveled far, and still had farther to go. They had sought a cottage, a barn, or even a tree - anyplace they could seek shelter. But there was nothing to be seen or found, except for a bush, and at last the father built a fire and told his son to try and sleep a little.

And when the father's eyes began to droop he woke his son,and bid him watch the fire.

Oh how the boy tried to stay awake! But he hadn't really slept while lying on the frozen ground and he was still exhausted from the walk. His eyes got lower. His head got lower.

The fire got lower.

So low in fact that a starving wolf began to inch nearer the sleeping pair.

But there was one who was awake. There was one who saw everything from amidst the barren bush; a little bird who was as gray as the brambly wood.

The bird hopped down and began fanning the flickering embers until the flames began to lick out hungrily; nor did the little bird stop, despite the pain on his breast, until the flames were dancing with strength.

And from that day on the Robin has proudly worn a red breast.

Robins are heralds of our Spring. We eagerly await the sighting of the first Robin. And in Christian lore the red-breasted birds have even more associations with Spring. The story goes that the Robin felt Christ's agony during the Crucifixion, and went to pull a thorn from His brow. One version says that some of Christ's blood fell upon the birds breast, while another version says that the bird was wounded; both versions agree that the Robin was blessed for the act of heroism.

In the realms of science there are two species of robins; there is the European Robin (Erithacus Rubecula), and the American Robin (Turdus Migratorious). The European Robin is only about 5.3 long, and both sexes have olive-green upper bodies, orange-colored breasts, and white bellies. They are found in woods, parks, and wooded countryside, and are found in both Europe and Asia. The American Robin is 10 long. The male has brown upper plumage, with brick red plumage on the breast and belly; the female and young have a duller coloration. They are found in cities and woods all across North America.

Bull, John. Simon & Schusters Guide to Birds. New York: Simon & Schuster. 1978.

Miller, Candace R. ( Tales from the Bird Kingdom. Ohio: Pourquoi Press. 1996.