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.