THE soft focus of robin redbreast against white winter snow is one of the iconic images of Christmas, signalling a season of peace and goodwill.

But behind this simple scene of tranquillity lies a very different story indeed, for the robin is really a bit of a bruiser.

Both sexes are territorial, but the male is particularly so, and should another male alight on his patch, then with feathers ruffled and wings drooped he will do everything in his power to see off the unwelcome intruder.

Usually, it is all about threat and posture with both males squaring up to each other with necks outstretched, showing off their vibrant red breasts.

A vicious chase will often ensue, as one bird pursues the other low across the garden in short darting flights, before intermittently stopping to face up to each other again.

Often this is enough to settle the dispute, but sometimes a furious fighting bout will result.

Such aggressive behaviour may seem a bit over-the-top, but for a robin its territory is of all-consuming importance, for it provides an exclusive food source during the lean days of winter and an area to raise young during spring and summer.

But for most of the time the robin is a rather more genteel bird that brings welcome colour to our gardens.

Every gardener will have appreciated the constant companionship that a robin brings as it follows you around the garden.

The robin brings colour to our lives in many other ways. It is, for example, one of the few birds that sings all year round.

In spring and summer it is a song that is delivered with real gusto, while in winter the song is a softer, more fluting warble.

So, while there is a bit of the street-fighter in the robin’s genes, its other more endearing habits have ensured that it is without doubt one of our most familiar and best loved birds.