national bird, to be democratically decided and unveiled on the day of the General Election. The search was instigated by a birder who feels 'embarrassed' that we, almost alone among nations, have no national bird to embody all we hold dear. The winner seems certain to be that garden favourite, the friendly and charming Robin, who, as he tips his head on one side and eyes you beadily, is likely thinking two things - (1) I hope this dupe has dug up some nice juicy worms for me, and (2) if only he/she were a whole lot smaller, I could get medieval on him/her to grievous effect. Anyone who has read David Lack's classic Life of the Robin will know what I mean - but the little charmers delight us still. Myself, I'd sooner the Blackbird won - not only is it beautiful in a more understated way, it also makes the most beautiful melodies, the sweet sound of an English summer evening. Or there's the Wren, which has been a national icon before - on the farthing coin (which is by boyhood could buy you one BlackJack, Shrimp or Fruit Salad) - and which, as a small thing that makes a big noise, might fittingly symbolise Britain's place in the world.
One set of birds that predictably failed to make the cut are the crows, but if I had to name my favourite birds - in the sense of the ones I most enjoy watching and interacting with - it would be those phenomenally intelligent, wily creatures, the only birds in whose eyes there's a spark of something we humans can recognise and relate to. The rest, let's face it, are flying mini-dinosaurs. And the Rook provides the aural signature of the English countryside - as every radio producer knows: rookery sounds in the background, Instant Country!