A National Bird Vote.
It may not have escaped your attention that there is an alternative election going on. Author, broadcaster and fellow RSPB columnist, David Lindo (aka the brilliant Urban Birder) called for and has created a national debate on which of our British Birds should be voted our champion.
So what do we want and need from a National Bird? What could our choice say about our version of events? Most of the ten birds shortlisted from last year’s poll have long natural, mythical, historical or literary associations with us. So who to choose? I was invited into school last Thursday to present the vote in an assembly and introduce each of the candidates. Here they are:
Barn owl: moth light, hollow-boned and ghostly, with knock knees and a heart-shaped face, an encounter with these captivating birds is never forgotten.
Kingfisher: announcing its presence with a referee’s whistle and leaving a sunset-orange, electric-blue comet-trail behind it, who says our birds can’t be exotic?
Mute swan: regal, poised as ballerinas (or floating like meringues) can be found throughout our history from Arthurian legend to swan uppings.
Puffin: spending most of its life at sea, returning to our island cliffs to breed and raise ‘pufflings’ in burrows. AKA ‘sea parrot’ or ‘clown of the seas’.
Wren: small but mighty and long associated with human habitation, is the wren’s sustained and noisy defence the origin of the phrase ‘to get ticked off’?
Robin: not just for Christmas! Confiding and ever present in gardens and parks, the robin sings and cheers us all year round.
Blue tit: the plucky, bright blue and yellow acrobat of our bird tables and star of many nest box cameras.
Blackbird: found anywhere in Britain, its lyrical, honeyed song can be heard above traffic and is as quintessentially British as the smell of the earth after rain.
Red Kite: from Shakespeare to celebratory conservation success in all its wheeling, elegant foxy colours, counterbalanced with a delta-shaped, wafer tail.
Hen Harrier: there should be 320 breeding pairs of these stunning raptors in England; last year, mostly due to illegal persecution, there were just 3. This bird could be our next red kite story – or it could become our very own Maltese falcon.
Of course it’s political (particularly with the last candidate) but The National Bird Vote is also about freedom of choice, conservation and national identity (birdwatching and conservation are a British invention and being an island, our bird population changes, migrates, settles and resettles all the time). And today, armed with their own ballot papers, the children get to vote – so it’s about education and democracy, too – and the buzz in the playground is that they’re taking it very seriously.