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What’s in a name?

June 22, 2018

The robins are back in town. In our district several species of Robins (genus Petroica) are seasonal migrants seeking relief in the alpine areas from the heat in summer only to return to lower and warmer climes in winter. Well they are back for the winter in large flocks.

Male Flame Robin

Flame Robins (Petroica phoenicea) (pictured left) and Scarlet Robins (Petroica boodang) (below right and left) have been seen in large mixed groups– or it could have been a flock of each foraging closely together! At a distance or to the untrained eye the species are not easy to tell apart. The males of both species sport a red breast reminding me of the Robin Redbreast I knew from stories as a kid but had never seen. It is only when you see them together that the differences become apparent.

Male Scarlet Robin

Most obviously the Flame Robin has a dark grey head and back whereas that of the Scarlet Robin is black. The breast colour red presents as a variety of hues. The Flame Robin has orange-red markings which start at the throat. The Scarlet Robin colour which starts on the breast can vary between scarlet (right) and orange red (below left). The size of white splash above the beak of the Scarlet Robin is also a bit of a give-away.

Interestingly (and confusingly) the species name for the Flame Robin, phoenicea, is derived from the Latin word phoenicius meaning scarlet.

Not so Scarlet Robin

The aforementioned Robin Redbreast which was a character from my childhood is a British bird of the Chat family. It has brown plumage and a burnt orange breast. The discrepancy between the breast colour and name came about because when the bird was first named, the English language had not yet invented a word for orange. If it had it may have been called Robin Orangebreast.

Hasn’t got the same ring to it!

One Comment leave one →
  1. macwake permalink*
    June 22, 2018 8:37 am

    Great photos, Ron. With regard to identifying robins, by coincidence there’s a great article in the latest issue of ‘Australian Birdlife’ magazine on how to tell female robins apart – a much trickier problem!

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