I was amused at the weekend to hear an appeal for a National bird. I have a problem with most aspects of nationalism but I think a bird is probably at the least offensive end of the wedge. Over breakfast muffins there was a discussion on what sort of strategy would you pursue. For example, do you go for the weird looking one that would be at least unique, like the New Zealand Kiwi? Or perhaps something more iconic and something aspirational such as a peregrine falcon, which may not be the largest of our birds of prey but having had one flying centimetres above my limited scalp coverage at falconry displays on two separate occasions recently they are brilliant aerial acrobats. Or do you go for something everyone knows, like a sparrow. Or something just so beautiful that people will immediately warm to it, even if it is a merciless predator (I was thinking about kingfishers, but come to think of it the jay should also be in with a shout).Or maybe a Mallard, as everyone likes ducks, and for the best we can probably do for the nation is to choose something unthreatening and inherently funny and they are probably the best bet since we do not have penguins (outside of John Lewis adverts).
But I think it is a good time of year to think about this because for me at least the choice is obvious and will literally be staring us in the face over the next few weeks. It has to be the robin, surely?
Everybody in this country knows what a robin looks like. They are all over the country, in towns and in the country. They chase us along footpaths and get astonishingly close to us in our gardens (especially when we are gardening, last time I turned over one of our flower beds I had to shoo one of our locals out of the way so I could continue digging, so intent was he/she on getting in on the invertebrates I was turning up. They are attractive birds, both sexes are pretty (nice to have some equality there in bird land), bold, plucky and appear often positively friendly. They eat lots of garden pests. They are also, admittedly sexually promiscuous, prone to random acts of violence when high on hormones and make an awful lot of noise outside the window when you are trying to sleep at some stupid time at the morning like drunken lads on the way back from the pub (although much more tunefully). Come to think of it, they really do echo many British traits.
I think many of us have our own robin anecdotes too. Mine is from a dark and frosty winter early morning some years ago when I was scraping ice off the car in preparation for the dread M25 crawl to work. As I moved around the windows scraping away in the dark, I just looked up for some reason; must have felt that something was watching me.
The robin was about six centimetres away from my eyes, looking at me with an expression of pure aggression. How dare I be in his territory? Now a robin may not be very big, but that beak is sharp. But I was lucky; the tiny part of his tiny brain eventually seemed to compute that actually I was probably not a threat to his mating prospects after the turn of the year and he let me go on my way with only a warning.
So I am warning you. If you have a chance to vote, I advise you to vote robin, because they are watching us, and we are living in their territory after all. And while I suspect the goldfinches are no way as cute as they seem, don’t trust them to have your back. They eat thistle seeds. Robins eat meal worms. Not much of a contest there.
Apparently robins were voted national bird in the 60s and I cannot see them giving up territory without a fight. After all, when you find your recently bought department store toy penguin torn to pieces you’ll know who they really object waddling in on their Christmas card racket…