When it comes to choosing national symbols, the United Kingdom seems to favor the royalty of the world's flora and fauna. The lion is its national animal, the rose is its national flower and the oak is its national tree. But the collective territories of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have never named a national bird. While the robin is commonly called "Britain's favourite" avian species, it was elected only informally in the 1960s.
As founder of the Vote National Bird campaign, ornithologist David Lindo thinks it's time to make things official—and maybe even unseat the red-breasted icon. Since consulting with members of British birding and conservation groups last year, he has narrowed the contest to ten finalist species, chosen in part for how they might inspire the next generation of bird-lovers. He is now gathering votes from the public, who have until May 7 to cast their online ballot. Lindo plans to bring the elected species before British politicians after the country’s general elections that same day to have it made official. He has already found widespread support for the campaign among politicians in the incumbent and competing parties, as well as various environmental groups.
Lindo says he wants the vote to educate people and galvanize them to think more about Britain’s wildlife. He believes Britain’s top candidates for a national bird would have been completely different even 50 years ago, considering the environmental changes that have affected bird life in the region. “Many of the most common birds in the 1950s are now very rare,” he explains. “There are several birds off the list that I personally think should still be there, like the cuckoo or the nightingale, but children today are growing up more separated from nature, so it’s little surprise that some species are out of sight and out of mind.”
So far, support for individual birds varies considerably. Apart from differences in appearance, behavior and sound, some of the species on the list have restricted ranges and are less recognizable across the country. The birds also have different cultural resonances among the U.K.'s member nations. Lindo hopes the national bird elections will be repeated to help negotiate these differences, rather like the elections for their human political counterparts.
“I would guess the election will happen once every four years or so, and because it’s happened already, more people will be ready for it next time. It all depends on how it’s all received come the day, when it’s announced,” he says. Consider the top ten birds in this slideshow, then vote online:
The barn owl is synonymous with farmland and the English countryside, and it never fails to captivate people who are lucky enough to glimpse the predatory bird at night, dawn or dusk. Being crepuscular means the owl gets less face time with the public, but any lack of exposure before the publication of the Harry Potter series has since been resolved for all owls in the U.K.