Britain is unusual in not having a national bird. But all that’s set to change, thanks to a campaign by leading ornithologist, David Lindo.
After a first round of public voting, a shortlist of Britain’s 10 most popular birds has been drawn up, comprising the robin, kingfisher, barn owl, blue tit, wren, blackbird, puffin, mute swan, red kite and hen harrier.
But which one gets your vote?
One of the most-loved birds in any garden, robins have long been admired for their melodious voices and beautiful red breasts.
But despite their cuddly appearance, they are aggressively territorial, and will not tolerate another robin invading their patch; they will happily die defending it.
One of the only birds to be heard singing on Christmas Day, robins retain their territories all year round.
In winter, they puff up their plumage to insulate themselves against cold winds.
Nearly three-quarters of robins in Britain die before they are one year old, either caught by predators or unable to fend for themselves.
Britain’s most colourful bird is a familiar sight in their favourite habitat of lowlands next to canals, rivers and lakes.
Small, with their unmistakeable bright blue and orange plumage, kingfishers are a common sight in Britain and can be seen all year round.
“A flash of electric blue darting over a wetland will undoubtedly be a fast-flying kingfisher using their pointy bills to catch small fish such as minnows,” says Kane Brides, an ornithologist at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT). “And before eating its prize catch, the kingfisher cleverly turns the fish around in its bill so the fish is swallowed head first, this prevents the fish’s scales getting stuck in the bird’s throat.”
The barn owl is one of the most widespread bird species in the world, occurring in every continent except Antarctica.
With their heart-shaped faces, striking wings and pure white underside, barn owls are incredibly attractive birds who mate for life, unless their mate is killed, when they will search for another.
Contrary to popular belief, the barn owl does not hoot like the tawny owl but instead produces an eerie, long-drawn-out shriek.
They are mainly nocturnal creatures, beginning their hunt for food at dusk and continuing it in total darkness, feeding on mice, voles, bats and rabbits. They can, however, occasionally be seen hunting in daylight during the breeding season to provide more food for their chicks.
Around 75 per cent of barn owls die in their first year. Most live just a few years. The oldest known barn owl in Europe is 21 years old.
With their colourful feathers of blues, yellows, whites and greens, blue tits are one of Britain’s most-spotted birds, appearing in three out of four gardens.
Experts believe their growing ubiquity is thanks to the boom in garden feeders, which allow blue tits to survive the winter.
Small, active and acrobatic, blue tits move in roving flocks and are always flitting around, at all times seeming hard at work.
They are real woodland specialists, and excel at feeding in the upper branches of trees and shrubs, often hanging upside down.
A tiny bird with a stout figure and a surprisingly loud voice, wrens are easily recognised by their rich brown plumage and short cocked tail, which they flick repeatedly.
The wren is Britain’s most common breeding bird, but their small size and reliance on insects means they perish easily during prolonged periods of cold weather.
They sing at dawn to deter intruding males, and attract female wrens in the process.
“Male wrens build several beautifully crafted dome-shaped nests made of moss and dried leaves, and the female gets to choose which one she wants to lay her eggs in,” says Brides.
The song of the blackbird is arguably the most beautiful and best-loved of any British bird, as well as being the most familiar.
With their bright orange beaks, jet black feathers and attractive eye-rings Blackbirds are one of the most striking birds too.
They are also one of the most common, with around four million breeding pairs in Britain.
The secret of their success is their adaptability – they are resourceful birds just as at home in a woodland as an urban car park.
Puffins are incredibly unique-looking birds, with black backs, white cheeks and stunning multi-coloured bills.
They are also excellent fliers. Flapping their wings at up to 400 beats per minute, puffins can reach speeds of 55mph.
They congregate in colonies, which have recently been threatened by over-fishing.
“Puffins are also known as the parrots of the sea,” says Brides, “their colourful beaks give them this name and their dashing rainbow-like bills are used to show off and attract mates.”
However their beaks, which are made of keratin – the same protein as our hair and nails are made of – don’t retain their colour all year round: “Come the winter their bill goes completely dark”.
The mute swan is a large white water bird with an S-shaped neck and an orange bill bordered with black.
One of Britain’s largest and heaviest flying birds, with a wingspan of up to 2.4 metres, despite their name mute swans can make noises and regularly do when threatened. Highly territorial, the mute swan forms an impressive striking pose with their wings arched over their back before charging at the intruder.
With its reddish-brown body, angled wings and deeply forked tail, this magnificently graceful bird of prey was saved from national extinction by one of the world’s longest running protection programmes, and has now been successfully re-introduced to England and Scotland.
“Red kites are scavengers mainly eating carrion and road kill, however they don’t just scavenge food,” says Brides. “It’s well known that red kites like to decorate their untidy nests with odd items such as dummies, tennis balls, paper and even human clothing.”
One of Britain’s rarest breeding birds, which preys on grouse, the hen harrier faces extinction in England, in part because it is being illegally shot and trapped to maximise grouse populations for hunting.
During the breeding season, males perform a spectacular sky dance, with a series of steep climbs, twists and rolls.
Hen harriers exhibit a degree of polygyny, nesting in loose colonies, with males simultaneously raising several broods with as many as seven females.
“It would be fantastic if the hen harrier did become the national bird because it would then increase its chances of survival,” says David Lindo, the ornithologist driving the campaign to find Britain’s national bird.