Is this Robin male or female?

It’s a common question on social media.

Male and female Robins

Ashley is “Just interested to know”. There are hundreds of examples of people who are curious. Just how do you tell the difference?

Male and female Robins

How you tell the difference between male and female Robins is a question of only a little interest to me. What I find far more fascinating is why people need to know. People want to do something with the information once they have it. Exactly what is the point of knowing whether a Robin is male or female?

Male and female Robins

It’s 320 million years since Robins and humans were the same species. A male human and a male Robin may have some characteristics in common, as may a female human and a female Robin, but there’s been 320 million years of separate reproduction and evolutionary development. Do we really want to project human male and female characteristics on a red-breasted relative of the dinosaurs?

Male and female Robins

It seems we do. Males are ‘brave, ‘aggressive’ or ‘territorial’, while females are ‘pretty’, ‘caring’ and ‘busy’. We project human sexual stereotypes onto other species. We can’t help it. The problem is that sexual stereotypes influence science, and since it has been an area largely restricted to men, the sexual stereotypes held by men have held sway. For instance, scientists refused to believe that female Robins sang until recently.

Male and female Robins

“Pink tights”?

Robin - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

We want to know whether Robins are male or female because humans have a deep-seated need to psychologically project our sexual stereotypes onto other species. It’s both cute and terrible, terrible science.

And if you really still want to know, here’s the best guide by Gill Mason:

Male and female Robins

My question remains: what will you do with the knowledge when you have it? I’m “Just interested to know”.

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