Robin in the snow

Our national bird

Other countries have fearsome eagles or majestic cranes as their national bird. Now, finally, the British public have decided that our national bird should be the…. Robin.

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Almost a quarter of a million votes were cast in a poll to decide which should be the national bird of Britain. The shortlist of 10 included the beautiful barn owl, dazzling kingfisher, and incredibly rare hen harrier. But the humble robin was a run away winner, getting a third of the votes.

So why did the robin win? Here’s my guess. Robins are pretty common and widespread across the country, all year round. With their striking red breast everyone can recognise it, and sees them pretty regularly. It’s an egalitarian choice – you don’t have to be an expert or live in a particular place to see them. Their song is loud, drawing attention, and they’re not too scared of people.

Many gardeners will have had the company of a robin just a metre or two away as they work, the robin on the lookout for any worms that get turned over by digging. With patience, robins can even be trained to take food from your hand.

The results of this poll remind me of the poll to choose our national animal a few years ago. The humble hedgehog won – another animal that town and country dwellers alike can encounter in their gardens, although sadly hedgehog numbers are declining rapidly, meaning many people haven’t encountered one for years.

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Some people have criticised the choice of the robin, as robins will fiercely defend their territory. Others campaigned for the hen harrier to win, in the hope that raising awareness of the plight of the bird would help to conserve it. The hen harrier has been illegally persecuted by gamekeepers for years. Last year only four pairs of hen harriers successfully bred in England.

But I think the robin is a good choice. It’s fiesty, easily identifiable and attention grabbing. Like the hedgehog, it’s one of few wild birds and animals one can get really close to. Still, I have to admit it didn’t get my vote – I plumped for the blackbird for its song that gladdens my heart each morning.

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