German ornithologist Ernst Hartert (1858–1933) was the first to describe the subspecies of Robin present in the British Isles (Erithacus rubecula melophilus). The German description appeared in the 1901 issue of the zoological journal of the Tring Museum (now the Natural History Museum at Tring) in London, Novitates Zoologicae, vol. VIII, p. 317.
Hartert was a master of systematic ornithology, with particular detail for subspecific features. He travelled far and wide to collect birds in the late nineteenth century and wrote extensively for various publications, such as Novitates Zoologicae, Bulletin of the British Ornithologists’ Club, Ibis, Journal für Ornithologie, Genera Avium. An elected member of the BOU since 1893, he published the second version of the British List in 1915. His magnum opus, Die Vogel der paläarktischen Fauna, was published in three volumes between 1910 and 1922. It is a highly descriptive work, shorter than Johann Friedrich Naumann’s Naturgeschichte der Vögel Deutschlands, still as impressive. Both titles are precursors to Urs Glutz von Blotzheim’s Handbuch der Vögel Mitteleuropas and Stanley Cramp’s Handbook of the Birds of Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa: The Birds of the Western Palearctic, which were published in the late twentieth century.
Hartert’s description of the British Robin is part of a larger account of his journeys through ‘Africa, Asia and America’. In a chapter about the breeding birds of the Canary Islands, a large section is devoted to Robins, with most space devoted to Tenerif Robin (E.r. superbus). The debate at the time was whether this subspecies was different from the ones found in the British Isles and the nominate form.
The following is an English translation of the original German text.
Erithacus rubecula melophilus subsp. nov.
Differs from [E. r. rubecula] by deeper, russet upper parts, particularly obvious on the rump and uppertail coverts, and by a much darker, rusty throat in fresh plumage. The flanks are a deeper colour and there is more extensive brown, resulting in less white coloration on the belly; the undertail coverts are light rusty. The song is very well developed. This form is an indefatigable singer, especially during the ‘autumnal song’, which is sung with perseverance and much fire. Starting in September, it is already in full song by October. It has a preference for sitting on the roofs of buildings and on fences, and belts out its delightful song into the autumnal air. In general, it does not reside solely in forests and woods but occupies also gardens and likes the vicinity of houses. The nest is often placed in a higher spot, and can be found against buildings, in haystacks, in ivy against walls and tree trunks, in open tree holes, even in greenhouses, and to a lesser extend in unused barns, if it can enter through an open window. It is one of the commonest birds in England, and very much loved by the population, known and loved by everyone, and to which no one wants to bring harm. It plays a widespread role in poetry and nursery rhymes. Because of its conspicuous love of singing, I have attached the above-mentioned name.
Breeding area: To my knowledge only the British Isles.
I do not know the Andalusian specimen mentioned by Tristam.
At times the throats of older birds are so dark that they resemble closely the Canary Islands superbus, but they can always be identified by other features when the throat colour does not suffice.
Ernst Hartert, ‘Aus den Wanderjaheren eines Naturforschers. Reisen und Forschungen in Afrika, Asien und Amerika’, Novitates Zoologicae, VIII (1901), 221–355, 383–393 at 317.