Save the Kiwi

I know you are as fascinated as I am by Wikipedia’s list of official (and unofficial) national birds. It isn’t clear to me quite how a nation decides that it needs a national winged icon, nor how it decides from amongst the many options which one it will pick as its primary feathered friend.

But recent analysis (you can download it here) reveals some riveting facts.

  • A total of 107 countries in the world have at least one national bird. This is from a total of 193 members of the United Nations or 206 countries in the world (counting twelve disputed ones). So not much over half. A disappointing effort really. Those national bird enthusiasts still have a lot of ground to cover.
  • Four countries (Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, and Trinidad and Tobago) are leading the pack with two national birds each. I assume these nations ran closely-contested beauty pageants or similar, and in the end the judge declared that the head-to-head final was too close to call. “Everyone’s a winner”.
  • For one of those countries there is a clear pecking order: the Rufous-bellied Thrush (I kid you not) is the only official Brazilian National Bird. The other, much-more-commonly-named Golden Parakeet must suffer the ignominy of unofficial status. Surely a downer when s/he is at the bath with his/her bird buddies. Perhaps they are polite enough not to tweet about it.
  • Not all birds are hatched equal. The Andean Condor soars above others, with four nations (Boliva, Chile, Columbia and Ecuador) claiming it for their own. The African Fish Eagle, from the name I guess it is a cross between a pescatorial life form and a bird of prey, is the top choice of three – Zimbabwe, Zambia and South Sudan. And good on South Sudan for not just focusing on the big issues (like the war with its neighbour to the north) but also attending to the more minor ones in the short time since it became independent last year.
  • There are some odder nest-mates also, with Scotland and Mexico sharing the Golden Eagle (who knows how this comes about when they are not even in the same continent), Pakistan and Iraq splitting the Chukar Partridge, and Estonia and Austria divvying up the Barn Swallow, which sounds rather painful if you think about it. Swallow. Barn.
  • The Turquoise-browed Motmot of Nicaragua gets the award for the longest bird name. And special mentions to the Magnificent Frigatebird of Antigua and Barbuda, and the Siamese Fireback Pheasant of Thailand (no surprise there) for general awesomeness in the name department.
  • Not so the good people of Sweden, who are side by side with the Common Blackbird. Was there nothing better available? Sadly the decision-makers in Belgium (Common Kestrel) and the Bhutan (Common Raven) seem to have been advised by the same tired team of unambitious ornithologists.
  • It is clearly tricky times for the Palestinian Sunbird, proposed but apparently not yet accepted as the official National Bird of the Palestinian territories.
  • And what is the message from Mauritius, who have chosen the Dodo as a national emblem?

Most shocking of all, the Kiwi, that widely beloved (if a little shy) national icon that has already given its title to our national nickname is reportedly not yet officially our National Bird. Someone should form a civil society group on this and lobby for an Act of Parliament or whatever needs to be done. Perhaps its unofficiality is connected with the fact that it spends so much time hiding from the limelight. Great impact but not much visibility.

Lastly, you can decide for yourself what you think on bird beauty from the pics here. But for my money the Magnificent Frigatebird looks pretty well named (the Magnificent part rather than the Frigate part); it is obviously hard to get the Burmuda Petrel to sit still; the Indian Peacock takes the best photos (although the East African Crowned-Crane is pretty impressive too); and the Clay-colored Thrush (good colour spotting, bird namer) gets the award for the most apparent bird brains, just from the intelligent turn of its head.

Next week, national trees!


PS. I also now have another reason to like Canada. They are listed as having no national bird. But this is still unofficial. We are on tenterhooks to find out whether the rumours are true.