Science & Environment

Poll to find first national bird for Britain

mute swan Image copyright ALEX HYDE / SPL

Votes can now be cast in an online poll to choose what could become Britain's first national bird.

Currently Britain does not have a national bird, but ornithologist David Lindo believes that should change.

A shortlist of 10 birds has been chosen by online voters on his campaign's website from an original list of 60.

Mr Lindo will close the vote on the day of the general election, 7 May, and ask the new government to officially appoint the winner as national bird.

The RSPB welcomed the initiative and said the lack of a national bird for Britain was a "glaring omission".

Robin 'early favourite'

Mr Lindo, the self-styled "Urban Birder", told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I want to encourage the great British public to vote for the bird that best represents all that is great about this nation."

He hoped the appointment could be "the first act" of a new government, once the dust has settled from "the other election", he told the programme.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionHere are the top ten - with a little help from Tweet of the Day

The robin has emerged as an early favourite, but Mr Lindo, who is backing the blackbird, told Today: "People consider the robin as a British bird - but [like] a lot of our native birds... some of the population move south to Iberia for the winter and are replaced by immigrants from the continent.

"So the robin you see in your back garden during winter is not necessarily British born."

And he added: "It is quite a violent bird."

A first round of polling on the campaign's website received 70,000 votes.

One of England's rarest birds, the hen harrier, is something of a surprise contender, according to Mr Lindo.

"I was expecting 10 garden birds in the list," he said, adding that the original pool of 60 candidates included favourites from literature and song such as the turtledove, nightingale and skylark - all of which have dropped out of contention.

The hen harrier, which was the subject of a recent campaign because it had been the target of illegal hunting, was down to just one breeding pair a couple of years ago and "may already be extinct", he said.

'Glaring omission'

The robin is sometimes mistakenly thought of as the nation's official bird, the RSPB said, after it was given the title unofficially by some enthusiasts in the 1960s.

Northern Ireland does not have an official national bird, while the golden eagle and red kite are sometimes regarded as unofficial national symbols of Scotland and Wales respectively.

In December 2013 a petition was lodged by the RSPB for the golden eagle to be recognised as Scotland's official national symbol, but the Scottish parliament voted against the plans after it decided the RSPB needed to do more to show greater support for the proposals.

The RSPB said it welcomed Mr Lindo's initiative in getting people to discuss their favourite birds.

And it said the fact Britain did not already have an official national bird while other countries did was a "glaring omission".

Grahame Madge, spokesman for the RSPB, said: "It's opened people's eyes to birds, which is raising awareness. As an organisation we are really behind him.

"It seems most other nations have pipped us to the post in identifying a national bird, and for the UK not to have a national bird when we are a nation of bird lovers does seem to be a glaring omission."

The shortlist, in pictures:

1. Mute swan

Image copyright Simon Booth / SPL
Image caption Weighing up to 9kg (20lbs) the familiar, elegant swan is also one of the world's largest flying birds

2. Red kite

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption As well as a master of aerobatic displays, the red kite is a conservation success story - it recovered from a tiny and dwindling population to its present numbers which exceed 3,000

3. Hen harrier

Image copyright Jim Zipp / SPL
Image caption One of the most persecuted birds in the UK, according to Mr Lindo the hen harrier should be Britain's choice if we want to 'back an underdog'

4. Puffin

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Also known in Scotland as the sea parrot, the charismatic puffin can only be seen in Britain in the summer, as it spends the winter months at sea

5. Barn owl

Image copyright LINDA WRIGHT / SPL
Image caption The barn owl is a distinctive, nocturnal hunter and a much-loved, widespread feature of the UK countryside

6. Kingfisher

Image copyright COLIN VARNDELL / SPL
Image caption Despite its fame and bright colouring, the kingfisher is not an everyday sight because it spends so much time waiting motionless - before a blue flash darts towards its prey

7. Wren

Image copyright Duncan Shaw / SPL
Image caption A tiny brown bird with a very big voice and a long Latin name (Troglodytes troglodytes), the wren is the most common UK breeding bird

8. Robin

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Arguably already Britain's favourite bird, the robin only develops its famous red breast as an adult - but its iconic colouring is shared by both males and females

9. Blackbird

Image copyright Colin Varndell / SPL
Image caption By contrast, male and female blackbirds look rather different: the females are in fact brown, not black; these birds are familiar favourite in UK gardens with a beautiful mellow song

10. Blue tit

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Another common garden visitor, especially of feeders and nest boxes, the blue tit in fact displays a vibrant mixture of blue, yellow, white and green

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