In the U.S., the Bald Eagle is a big deal. Synonymous with national pride, the bird is placed indiscriminately on flags, t-shirts, baseball caps, and tattoos. When I moved to the U.K. in 2014, I knew I’d miss this openly patriotic display—Brits are not the types to walk around with screen-printed national bird attire. While that’s likely because of European fashion sensibilities, it turns out Brits couldn’t wear national bird attire even if they wanted to: Britain doesn’t have a national bird.
But it’s about to get one. David Lindo, a well-known British ornithologist, is dismayed by the lack of a national avian, and is encouraging Britons to take a stand and choose between ducks and pheasants, swallows and swans, in the country’s first-ever national bird vote.
Speaking from the top of a tall building in central London where he’s trying to spot high-flyers in foggy skies, Lindo tells me it’s high time Britain got its own bird. “We adore our birds,” he says. “I can’t believe no one’s actually come up with this idea.”
Well actually, someone else has. In 1961, a bird appreciation council selected the European Robin. But Lindo is dismissive of this, as the general public didn’t get to weigh in. “It was chosen by a committee of crusty old men in suits,” he says, and was never formally anointed as a national symbol. Now, Lindo, who is a nature writer and broadcaster, and goes by the moniker ‘The Urban Birder’, is using his influence to make the process more inclusive. That includes lots of signage encouraging British citizens to vote for a national bird, online or on paper (there's nothing but honesty preventing non-Brits from participating).
Lindo launched the campaign in August, with the support of organizations like the United Kingdom’s Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and the Hawk and Owl Trust. Until October 31, voters can choose up to six options from a list of 60 birds—each of which are iconic in Britain because of the folklore and history attached to them.
The online poll has already attracted 40,000 voters; Lindo is aiming for 100,000. The six birds with the most votes will compete for the national title in another open-voting session, from January to May. Time-wise, it’s purposefully aligned with the United Kingdom’s general elections. “The idea is that it runs alongside the general election, and hopefully will offer an antidote to the boredom and drudgery of that vote,” Lindo says. He’s also working to get whatever bird is elected formally approved as a national symbol—and he hopes the timing of the vote will peak government officials’ interest.
So far, the robin, Barn Owl, Kingfisher, wren, Blue Tit, Mute Swan, Blackbird, Kestrel, and Peregrine Falcon are taking the lead. As for the Urban Birder’s own personal favorite? It’s not even on the list, he says. “The Ring Ouzel. I’ve loved them since I was a kid.”
Lindo’s hoping the political edge will raise the profile of his effort, which in turn will raise some awareness for avians. After the decision next year, he aims to place the avian finalist on a stamp, and to have garnered enough support to create a nature reserve in a deprived area outside London where wild birds could take refuge and bring nature closer to the community.
As for the bird that’ll end up on the stamp, Lindo reckons it’ll be something familiar, like the robin, or another much-loved garden bird. It may not be as majestic as America’s eagle, but it would definitely be British.