England, The UK & The Robin
The robin is Britain's most familiar and favourite bird. Its popularity as a Christmas card icon dates back to the Victorians. However, its place in English folklore can be traced back to when it was once seen as an afterlife messenger, a symbol of birth, renewal, good fortune and happiness. Whatever the myth or superstition surrounding it, the fiery breast of the robin has captivated the minds of countless admirers for generations. A welcome garden visitor and typical resident of woodlands, allotments and parks, the robin unofficially remains England’s de facto national bird despite officially becoming Britain's national bird in 2015.
The Gardener's Friend
Robins are well-known for punching above their weight when defending their territories in the same way one might regard one's home as one's castle, but with a year-round song to say so and prove it! A small bird with a bulldog mentality and yet a bird for all seasons, feeding on seeds, fruit and invertebrates. They also have a well-liked disposition for freshly tilled soil, where they can easily find some of their favourite food - worms and insect larvae, but their real charm comes from allowing themselves to be hand-fed when frequently fed. Hence their nickname, the gardener's friend.
Robin (Erithacus rubecula)
Wales (Cymru) & The Red Kite
In some ways, the story of the Red Kite has followed the fortunes of Welsh identity and the Welsh economy, two particulars with a past comparable to the soaring success of a bird once on the verge of extinction. When red kites disappeared from the rest of the UK two hundred years ago, the few that remained hung on in Wales. Struggling throughout the centuries yet resilient enough to prevail against the odds, the red kite has emerged as a living, thriving symbol of the Welsh language and culture, earning its well-deserved place as the national bird for Cymru in 2007.
The Cymru Comeback
Known in the vernacular as The Land of Song, Wales is also the land of the red kite, where hundreds of them can be seen every day at special feeding stations in places like Llanddeusant and Gigrin Farm. Away from the bird tables, these medium-sized raptors prey on small mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians, but when these become scarce, they resort to feeding on earthworms and carrion. Since their reintroduction in the 1990s, they've made a remarkable comeback. Kite numbers have increased at such a rate they're now the most successful example of species reintroduction in the UK!
Red Kite (Milvus milvus)
Scotland & The Golden Eagle
Scotland, Britain's last retreat of the golden eagle, owes the beauty of its lochs, glens and moors to her Caledonian landscape – a mountainous landmass with natural borders hosting one of Europe's few remaining expanses of wilderness. Since Scotland's yearnings for the freedom of independence make a matching metaphor for those unfettered places of her wilds, there's no bird more symbolic of Scottish pride, strength and a desire for Sovereignty than a sovereign of the air typically found throughout her mountains and isles.
A King of the Sky
Majestic in flight, the magnificent golden eagle, is one of our most prestigious birds of prey. Yet nowhere in Britain does it embody the spirit of wilderness more than when soaring the highlands and cliffs, hunting in places few would dare to venture. Although not yet official, this spectacular two-metre wingspan aerial predator is regarded by many as Scotland's national bird. Yet some conflict still exists with it taking gamebirds and livestock, resulting in its unlawful persecution. Still, thanks to a particular project, golden eagle numbers in Southern Scotland have improved enough for them to reclaim their title and rightful place as kings of the sky.
Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos)
Northern Ireland & The Oystercatcher
Often referred to as a territory or province within the Ulster region, Northern Ireland is a part of the UK bordering the Republic of Ireland. Being a territory with no official symbol, motto or flag, it occasionally uses the Ulster Banner to distinguish itself from the Irish Republic. In 1961 the Eurasian oystercatcher was unofficially selected to represent the region – a fitting choice for its 7,524km coastline renowned for beauty spots like the Giant's Causeway and a certain wild charm for thousands of migrating waders.
Like a foreign state bordering an island nation, the oystercatcher is a true anomaly amongst shorebirds. Whereas most wader chicks usually feed themselves after hatching, the oystercatcher is only one of two* British waders to feed its young! Their diet typically consists of shellfish, crustacea, lugworms and ragworms. However, as wrinkles, mussels and cockles are a source of human food, competition continues to force them inland to fare more on a diet of earthworms and snails.
*The other being the stone curlew.
Birds Without Borders
Irish oystercatchers are short to medium-distance migrators, and although they tend to stay in Ireland, they hold no truck with borders, territorial waters or restricted air space. Instead, their loyalty comes from where the weather and food sources drive them – be it back in Iceland or the other side of the divide between the region and the Republic. As a result of commercial cockle-bed dredging, much has been done on both sides of the border to preserve the loughs, lagoons, salt marshes and mudflats along Ireland's coasts for its wildfowl and waders.
Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus)