BBC Wildlife Magazine
American robin, Eastbourne
In early February, an Eastbourne resident noticed an unusual bird in their garden and quickly realised it was a transatlantic visitor: an American robin. This Nearctic thrush is no relation to our own European robin and is rare on this side of the pond – this being the first record of it on the English mainland in 12 years.
News quickly spread and crowds soon started gathering on the quiet suburban street. Luckily the bird remained faithful to the area in the subsequent weeks. Local residents were friendly and accommodating of the inconvenience and a crowdfunding page set up for visitors’ donations raised nearly £3,000 for Eastbourne Foodbank.
The robin is most likely to have arrived back in October, the peak time for North American land birds reaching Europe. Any westerly airflow may deliver such rarities, but fast-moving depressions are particularly productive (sometimes also bringing in North American monarch butterflies).
Tropical storms may track up America’s eastern seaboard and pass Newfoundland, mopping up migrating birds trying to head south. These weather systems then tend to follow the jet stream east across the Atlantic to Europe. Although most birds will sadly perish en route, an associated warm front can increase the survival rate.
Some birds will hitch a lift on a boat for the crossing. Some of these will make landfall on islands, but occasionally such vagrants choose to overwinter on the British mainland, often turning up – like this one and the northern mockingbird, 2021’s ‘big’ American sighting – in berry bushes in suburban gardens. The robin was last seen in Eastbourne on 27th February.
Not only does Britain have the densest fox population in Europe (despite heavy persecution), the species also occurs nearly everywhere. Foxes have been recorded in all mainland 10km grid squares – only some islands are without them. April sees the year’s first cubs emerge above ground. In morning and evening, they tumble and scrap near the den like energetic puppies.