European Robin posing in the early autumn sunlight

Robins, a sign of winter?

The European robin (scientific, Erithacus rubecula) is a bird we all associate with Christmas due to their usage on cards, decorations and gift wrappings. They are also seen far more often in the winter (in both the UK and Algarve), so are they migratory? Yes and no!

In the cooler northern regions of Europe, they will fly south for the winter to escape the harsh cold. In the UK, these migrants add to the resident numbers which is why it is so synonymous with Christmas time.

It gets a little more confusing as some of the UK robin population also migrates to southern Europe, however, this is recorded as mainly the females and not in large numbers.

Here in the Algarve, it is a similar occurrence. Robins can be seen throughout the year; however, it is an uncommon spot. I occasionally spot a few during the summer here in the hills of the Algarve, particularly along the riverbank of the Odelouca.

During October, many of the robins resident in the northern parts of Portugal and Spain head south and the robin becomes a very common sight and sound in the Algarve; some even go a little further into the northern coastal regions of Africa.

After a brief discussion with a local bird expert, ringed robins from other countries have also been recorded here in the Algarve.

Currently, my garden and the land surrounding our house here in the hills are alive with robin calls and their fantastic song, although they are much more shy than the ones that accompany you digging in the garden in the UK waiting for any earthworms you may uncover.

This is probably due to the fact that, in many European countries, the robin has been a (ridiculous) source of food and captured in barbaric traps. Although now illegal, traps are unfortunately still used today to capture these birds. If any snare or glue traps are discovered, please contact the GNR as it will be taken seriously.

These small birds grow to just 14cm in length with a wingspan of just 22cm. Both sexes are similar in plumage and I am sure they require no explanation of their colouring. Juveniles lack the orange breast which develops in time. Although diurnal, robins can be found singing at night (usually in spring) in areas with artificial lighting.

During March, our northern visitors will head back to their breeding grounds and the numbers dramatically reduce, with the resident population beginning to breed again. This is generally concentrated further inland in the hills and forests with the exception of Aljezur and the Costa Vicentina.

A lot of research has been conducted on the robin’s superpower sense of Magnetoreception, the ability to visualise the magnetic field of the planet by the effect it has on the light entering the eye. Although yet to be fully understood, many creatures have this ability and further reading on the studies conducted on the robin can easily be found on the internet.

Whilst we are on the subject of migrations, here are two more small birds to keep a look out for that can appear as they head south for the winter.

Pied Flycatcher – As these birds only appear during migration, the breeding plumage of the male has changed to a duller appearance, making them similar to the females. They are quite commonly seen during autumn and although larger in numbers during September, they can be spotted through to November.

Garden Warbler – These are a little trickier to spot as they tend to hide deep inside trees and bushes and are also a very plain-looking bird. I actually spotted my first one a few days ago in an oak tree in the garden and the photograph included here shows its appearance.

By Craig Rogers
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Craig Rogers is a wildlife and nature photographer from Wales now living in the Algarve, offering photography workshops. For more information, photographs and his blog visit

Photos: Craig Rogers

Garden Warbler spotted in an Oak Tree in the garden
Pied Flycatcher spotted on the riverbank
European Robin playing hide and seek with me
European Robin posing in the early autumn sunlight