Everybody in the country knows that yesterday was an important day for us all, a big day which involved putting a cross beside a name. We had to weigh up lots of pros and cons, personal qualities and feelings; it involved all different colours and types; thinking about who is best, who means most to us and which choice we could all bear to live with until the whole voting thing takes place once again in a few years’ time.
For yesterday, as the British Trust for Ornithology reminded us on the Today programme, was the final day for choosing the nation’s favourite bird from the short-list of ten finalists which they’d whittled down from the bird-loving public’s suggestions; which, if any, could displace the Robin from its place at the nation’s heart’s core? Quite a selection it was, too, including some spiky creatures you’d never see in our garden in a month of Sundays, ones with long claws and sharp beaks like the Red Kite and Hen Harrier, but also more attractive ones, like the Barn Owl, whose heart-shaped, kindly face makes us smile on the rare occasions we see one swooping across our path when we’re driving down country lanes. On the shortlist we also found the kingfisher, so far never seen in our habitat, though Uncle Jonny used to see them by the River Ravensbourne in London: isn’t it a funny old world? Gorgeous, the halcyon, but not an everyday friend, like the others – blue tit, wren, sparrow and blackbird.
And that is why, when the voting website crashed, nobody in the family was bothered: who can choose between the blackbird ‘with his note so true and orange-tawny bill’ and the wren ‘with little quill’, both of whose glorious and complicated songs rouse the snuggling Newman and me every morning, as their conversation deepens with the dawn in that wonderful way. Even the ordinary little sparrows, so cheerful and so chattery, are our friends, and we bless them for sharing with us boys their generous rations from the feeders at the bottom of the garden. Up on the roof, on the chimney pot, sits another friend, but one not listed. Jackdaws roost and raise their brood in our spare chimneys, year after year. Not everyone’s idea of good housekeeping, maybe, but it makes these intelligent squawky birds firm favourites of ours, all the same. They choose us, and we love them.
If you would like to see a wonderful BBC programme about the dawn chorus, have a look at this webpage: