Rare sight of robin in Beijing causes stir and Brexit jokes

Photo of robin spotted in BeijingImage copyrightTERRY TOWNSHEND
Image captionThis is the bird that caused masses to flock to Beijing Zoo

The rare appearance of a European robin in Beijing has caused a stir among Chinese nature fans.

Hundreds of bird-watching photographers flocked to the Beijing Zoo last Friday after word spread that a European robin had been spotted there.

The red-breasted bird is common across Europe but is rarely seen in Beijing – it’s only the third time one has been recorded in the capital.

Some birdwatchers have joked the robin might be a “Brexit refugee”.

“It’s very rare to see [the European robin] in Beijing,” Terry Townshend, founder of Birding Beijing told the BBC.

“Almost 200 photographers camped out for it. I think a lot of people want to [capture it] because it’s a very photogenic bird and it has that sort of exotic feel.”

Birds in odd places

Mr Townshend was among the 200 photographers who camped out at Beijing Zoo last Friday.

200 photographers camped outImage copyrightTERRY TOWNSHEND
Image captionHundreds of photographers camped out for a chance to catch the bird

He said he found out about the sighting through bird watching groups on WeChat – a messaging app in China.

“A lot of people associate the bird with Britain… [so] someone in the WeChat group called the bird a ‘Brexit refugee’ because [they joked that it was] escaping the political chaos in the UK,” said Mr Townshend.

“Then the name kind of just caught on really.”

It is not common for robins to migrate and it is unclear how this one might have landed so far away from home.

“It normally lives in Europe [and] Beijing is at least 1,500 miles of where it should normally be,” said Mr Townshend. “But it’s likely that this bird is from the eastern part of Europe and not Britain.”

European robin perched on branch in winter.Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionThe European robin is, as its name suggests, normally only found in Europe

“We don’t really know why birds sometimes turn up in odd places, it might be related to weather, when they are migrating they could be blown by strong winds.”

However it got there, the European robin is expected to stay in Beijing for some weeks to come.

Mr Townshend said a robin would normally only leave for home at the end of winter.

“So we would expect it to stay in Beijing for the rest of winter and it would probably disappear in March.”

The European robin was in 2015 chosen as UK’s first national bird in a poll of more than 200,000 people.

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