Nasty, brutish and short

I had a great aunt who believed that robins were unlucky and so when one arrived on a Christmas card the said card would be torn up and thrown on the fire.  How many robins do you see on your Christmas cards?

David Lack was a famous English ornithologist who did much to increase our understanding of how evolution shaped bird populations – and by extension, the lives of other species.

His first book, The Life of the Robin, was published in 1943 and contains many novel observations of the behaviour of this apparently familiar species.  One of the things that Lack spelled out in his delightful book was that robins live, on average, for just over a year.  The BTO currently suggest that the figure is about 2 years so another 70 years of study and ringing have not changed the picture very much.

Many people will tell you that they have had the same robin visiting them in their gardens for years and years and years and some of them might be right because the oldest British robin known is over eight years old, although Lack mentions Irish and German robins who both passed their 10th birthdays.  But most robins live lives of quiet desperation and their lives are nasty, brutish and short.

Lack points out that if all robins lived for 10 years and produced 10 eggs a year then in a decade that pair of robins would have turned into 20million robins (I haven’t checked the maths – but I will some time – the answer must, anyway, be ‘lots’).  We must thank food shortages, sparrowhawks, cold weather, weasels and others for preventing us from having to swim through a sea of robins as we go about our daily lives.   Happy Christmas!

PS Can Kauto Star win another King George? At 100/30 his odds will look very generous if he does, but you do have to remember he is 11 now (12 in a week’s time) which is getting on a bit for a racehorse.  Long Run, the Cheltenham Gold Cup winner is favourite to repeat  his win of last year, and is a great horse, but at 7/1 Master minded looks a good E/W bet to me.

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2 Replies to “Nasty, brutish and short”

  1. I calculated 19,531,250 robins, assuming equal sex ratios (and assuming I have not made a mistake somewhere!). I think that's close enough to 20 million for the purposes of the argument!
    Happy Christmas!


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