My 20 favourite British birds

Yesterday Melissa Harrison posted her ten favourite British birds on Twitter, which rapidly evolved to a fifteen, then to a twenty. Inspired by this I thought I’d have a go too.

So this wasn’t actually fun. I ended up with about forty birds on the list, then whittled it down from there. The initial long-list looked like this:


So that was a start, and I had good reasons behind all those choices. For some reason Jackdaw got scratched off, then put back. And Curlew briefly appeared twice. All par for the course. But then I started trying to bring it down to twenty, and got to this point:


Twenty. Easy. Except suddenly there was a huge waxwing-shaped hole in my list and I had to decide which to remove. I figured with three corvids on there it probably should be one of them, and I picked Rook. I’m regretting that choice as I write these words. I love Rooks. Why did I eliminate Rook? What is wrong with me?

But it’s too late now. So the final list, in no particular order, is:

Blackbird – because summer evenings wouldn’t be the same without its song

Dipper – because for such a comical-looking bird, it is hard-as-nails, taking on conditions that would kill us and raising its young there without batting an eyelid

Long-tailed Tit – I’ve probably said this before, but a group once landed on a fatcake feeder while I was hanging it up. I’ve been besotted ever since.

Bullfinch – again this is sound-based. That plaintive call is heartbreaking and speaks of loss in a way poets never could.

Starling – life would be less interesting without them

Treecreeper – keep climbing

Great-crested Grebe – I’ve become too close to one pair over the past four years not to include them

Jackdaw – a recent bird of the week star, all character and intelligence

Magpie – yes, they can be destructive. But they are smart and endlessly entertaining in their interactions

Red Kite – The most glorious sight when the sun hits them, perfection

Eider Duck – looks graceful and elegant, sounds like Frankie Howerd, what’s not to love?

Curlew – They evoke certain British landscapes like nothing else

Gannet – majestic, elegant, extraordinary

Puffin – I always like them, but after close encounters on Lunga I was utterly charmed

Swift – they are Spring and Summer

Pied Wagtail – the urban winter roosts earn them the spot

Robin – charming and friendly when they want to be, vicious little sods when they don’t

Siskin – one bird sounds like a hundred, so a tree with twenty sounds like a million (the maths doesn’t really hold up there)

Yellowhammer – I grew up spending day trips on the North York Moors, so this is the sound of my childhood

Waxwing – quite simply the most beautiful bird I’ve ever seen

So there you go. Twenty birds. Plus about another twenty that didn’t deserve to be cut. I could do the list of birds I hate. Bearded Tits. I’ve seen them but never really seen them. They just bound overhead, an orange squeaky blur, taunting me. I hate them. Just Bearded Tits in every spot on the list. It’s my issue really, not theirs. But for now, I hate them.

And I’ve just realised I forgot the Wheatear…

Really? I didn't make the cut?

Really? I didn’t make the cut?

If you don’t know of Melissa by the way, she is a wonderful writer and it’s well worth checking out her work.

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I welcome thoughts, comments and questions, so please feel free to share anything at all. Thanks, David

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