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Finding the nation’s favourite bird

PUBLISHED: 14:33 06 July 2015

Kingfisher diving

Kingfisher diving

Paul Hobson

British bird lovers have been eagerly voting in their own election over the last few months

Barn owl in flightBarn owl in flight

Whenever we try to rank or discover which bird is the nation’s favourite we tend to fall back into familiar territory. Robins, puffins and blue tits do well and birds of prey (especially eagles) tend to be popular but gulls and crows seem to be eternally shunned. Many nations have a national bird. I have never been sure why they feel the need for one, unless it is incredibly rare and having this status works well for its conservation, but clearly there is a passion for the idea.

As I write a survey is underway in which we can vote (online or by post) for our national bird and by the time you read this we will have chosen Britain’s best bird. Last year an original list of 60 birds was voted on and has been whittled down to the current shorlist of ten species. The candidates are barn owl, blackbird, blue tit, puffin, hen harrier, kingfisher, mute swan, red kite, robin and wren. Prior to this election and based on a survey conducted by The Times in the 1960s, the robin has been our unofficial national bird, so unsurprisingly the robin is at present the red hot favourite. But who knows who will be elected?

Male blackbirdMale blackbird

As someone who finds politics fascinating yet massively frustrating this got me thinking about recent events. I did some research and found that despite the fact Scotland’s national bird is unofficially the golden eagle, it has not been short-listed in this election - perhaps it couldn’t get the deposit together. I do wonder what will happen if in the future Scotland eventually gets independence. Will they reject the largely English-chosen national bird and elect the golden eagle? Or will we have to have another vote? I also wondered what Wales and Northern Ireland would choose - perhaps Wales might consider the red kite or even the chough?

Once the election is over and the successful candidate has become our official national bird, I would love to see a county by county breakdown of the voting. I imagine it would be predictable for some counties, perhaps those with coastlines look favourably on the puffin, more urban areas might think the blue tit is a real contender and possibly farming areas like Lincolnshire might like the look of the barn owl. Possibly areas where red kites have been re-introduced might think it has a realistic chance and those with a love of the Royal family might think the Queen’s bird, the mute swan, should reign supreme. Voters with a musical ear might consider the blackbird, the greatest of our spring choristers.

Blue titBlue tit

Of course this leads me to ponder on which bird Derbyshire would choose? It is not an obvious answer – possibly the hen harrier among the bird watchers who love the Dark Peak? I can’t really see the maritime puffin doing well in a land-locked county somehow.

However I would have preferred it by far if the vote had been totally free, allowing new contenders into the equation. Locally, I would like to think that the dipper might give any bird a serious run for its money – Norway has already picked the dipper as its national bird – but anyone who loves our uplands may well plump for the golden plover or the ring ouzel.

Mute swanMute swan

Once I started to consider the vote I looked up a fascinating list of national birds on the web. Most countries do have a national bird, many with official status. Some are very well known, for example America’s bald eagle which features on dollar bills and statues on many of its embassies. The eagle certainly has charisma and is large, clearly identifiable and a universal symbol of power. Germany, Italy, Afghanistan, Egypt, Mexico and Scotland have also chosen the eagle as their national bird, although in this case the golden eagle. Sweden has chosen the blackbird, Belgium the kestrel, Croatia the nightingale, Denmark has the mute swan and Estonia the swallow. Russia has the tundra swan – understandable but not quite what I expected. I thought it might be something along the lines of an eagle or falcon. China has two unofficial national birds, the red-crowned crane and the tree sparrow – no one else has picked the sparrow, which I had thought might do well in our election. I guessed correctly that gulls and crows wouldn’t do well, although Taiwan has chosen the Taiwan blue-winged magpie. Oddly no one else has mentioned the robin, perhaps its appeal is a very British affair.

So by the time you read this we will have both a new government and an official national bird. It would be hard to bet against the robin, although personally I am voting for the blackbird. Whichever wins, I hope we embrace our new national bird. Who knows, it may even feature on a five pound note, and the sight of a robin redbreast atop our embassies rising above the surrounding streets from Buenos Aires to Beijing would certainly look amazing.


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