das Rotkehlchen

Robin redbreast, das Rotkehlchen

When I was a little girl, I was told to watch for the first robin of spring, a big, sturdy bird that liked to eat earthworms. But the fact is that the REAL robin doesn’t come to America at all, and in many parts of Europe, he doesn’t even migrate. The first time I saw him, he was up to his feathers in snow!

This plucky little fellow, pictured above, is the real robin redbreast. He’s smaller than a sparrow, and he looks more like a Christmas ornament than a bird. The Germans call him das Rotkehlchen, from the words rot (red) and die Kehle (the throat), plus -chen, an ending that means “little.” So he’s “the little red-throated guy.”

Why do we Americans wait each spring for an entirely different red-throated guy? Because our ancestors pined for their robins. They gave the familiar word to an unfamiliar bird in order to make themselves feel more at home.

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2 Responses to das Rotkehlchen

  1. Clare B. Dunkle says:

    Tanita remarks:

    Yes – and the European robin is even different than this wee snippet – I found the plumage just shocking, and a welcome harbinger of summer. (Scotland’s spring is a lot like other people’s winter. ☺)

    Clare replies: Your little guy is so cute! Do you know his official name?

  2. Clare B. Dunkle says:

    I’m wondering if your bird is the brightest-colored chaffinch I’ve ever seen. Does this kind of bird normally have dark wings with what looks like a big bright white X on them? I do love the chaffinches as well, but ours aren’t nearly so bright. They’re more of a dusty rose.