Britain has spoken – and chosen a vicious murdering bully as its national birdPhilip Hoare
The robin is brutish, ruthless, and ready to ruck. Could it be that, over gentler contenders, we have plumped for the bird that we deserve?
Thursday 11 June 2015 10.00 BSTLast modified on Thursday 11 June 201514.59 BST
So we’ve chosen a vicious murdering bully for our national bird? It’s bad enough that we probably plumped for our self-important red-breasted friend because the Victorians sentimentalised the robin as a symbol of Christmas. Yet I suspect that the main reason it has been chosen is because it’s the one bird most people can actually recognise.
Couldn’t we have gone for something more imaginative? Where was the raven, for instance, that super-intelligent, glossy black gothic spirit of place, without which the Tower of London and the monarchy would fall? (Although that legend turns out to beanother Victorian invention too, darn it).
Highly aggressive and territorial, its sweet song is actually the avian equivalent of a foul-mouthed 'get orf my land'
As a fervent beach-bird botherer, I’d have opted for something truly symbolic of our island’s shores – such as the philopatric and glorious oystercatcher, with its resplendent red bill; the longest living wader, reaching up to 45 years old, a stalwart guardian of the British coastline. Or how about the cuckoo, the time-honoured signifier of spring and usurper of other birds’ nests – surely a suitable symbol of our colonial past?
It seems remiss to ignore the eider duck, too, since we can claim it as the first bird ever to be protected by law. Back in the 670s, St Cuthbert declared the eiders of the Farne Islands should be safe from predation and, presumably, would-be quilt-makers. This resolute sea duck with its outrageous pistachio-green neck also speaks to a camp British sense of humour, as anyone who’s ever heard its ah-ooo call will testify; it sounds exactly like Frankie Howerd.