Britain does not have a national bird. That is an unbelievable fact, given that Britain – the birthplace of birding – is well known as a nation of animal lovers. So why does the nation, in which I was raised, not have an emblemic bird? After all, many other countries have one. For example, the USA has the Bald Eagle (since 1776), Mongolia has the Saker Falcon and Sweden is endowed with the Common Blackbird.
In truth, Britain already has a national bird, albeit unofficial. Back in the early 60’s the European Robin was given the title of Britain’s Favourite Bird in a newspaper poll, but it was not a public vote. Over the ensuing 50 years, the humble European Robin has come to represent all things British in the eyes and hearts of many Brits. But it was never ratified. Thus, I took it upon myself to ask the nation to decide once and for all.
The idea for this vote originally came to me as a kid sitting in class at school staring out the window, dreaming. Even then, as a seven year-old kid, I was a total birder. It was whilst watching some House Sparrows chirruping in a bush by the playground that the idea came to me to ask my class what their favourite bird was. So I devised a poll and a little while later the House Sparrow was indeed voted as top bird. I was delighted, as at the time it was my favourite too.
I promised myself at that tender age that when I grew up I would ask the same question again. Well, that day came two years ago when the idea flashed back into my head again. After a bit of research I realised that many nations had a feathered figurehead and that, embarrassingly, Britain did not. Even more puzzling was that there had never been a vote or poll since the European Robin was anointed.
In early 2014 I decided to embark on a campaign to get Britain voting. I had realised that the British General Election was scheduled for May 2015 so I thought it would be a great idea to run the bird vote alongside the political election. My thinking was that it would be a pleasing antidote to the drudgery and boredom that the political election would engender. My first job was to gather a team of advisors, creatives and volunteers to help me steer the campaign in the right direction. I also started appealing for financial help from friends and corporations as well as discounts and favors from service suppliers. Eventually, I got the Vote National Bird logo designed and website built. We were all set.
My plan was to have two rounds of voting. The first round occurred from August through November of last year when the public was invited to vote on 60 quintessentially British birds. The species ranged from folklore classics like Eurasian Skylark, Turtle Dove and Northern Lapwing to migrants like Barn Swallow and Common Cuckoo. Also included were some of the common garden birds like Eurasian Robin, Blue Tit and Common Blackbird plus other species as diverse as Rose-ringed Parakeet and Atlantic Puffin. The vote was launched at the British Bird Watching Fair in Rutland, Leicestershire – the biggest bird fair in the world. Rather shockingly for some, it involved a model dressed as a stylish crow. She invaded the stage interrupting a quiz and certainly was a showstopper!
Around 70,000 people voted during this round, whittling down the original list to a shortlist of the final 10 most voted for birds:
The second phase of voting started on March 16th and will run until midnight on May 7th and all 10 birds are currently going beak-to-beak for the public vote and over 100,000 people have already voted.
We have acquired a gorgeous old Rolls Royce Silver Shadow from a supporter to deck out as our Campaign Vehicle. It will be covered in Vote National Bird livery and will have a speaker system on the roof. I will be driven around the streets of London shouting through a megaphone enticing people to vote. We are also getting kids to vote too by inviting schools to create polling stations. As the adults vote in the General Election, so too will the kids of Britain (although they will be voting for birds). They will not just be learning about nature, as they research the birds that they want to vote for, but also about basic democracy.
The winner of the bird vote will be named later in May and crowned as Britain’s first official national bird and hopefully ratified by the incoming government as well as the Queen. But to my mind, every bird in Britain will be a winner because my hope is that this campaign will get the good folk of Britain thinking more about the nation’s birds. And that can’t be a bad thing.
– David Lindo, The Urban Birder