Our friend David Lindo has had the fantastic idea to vote for Britain's national bird. If like me you had always assumed it to be the Eurasian Robin (which it turns out is Britain’s favourite bird not national bird) then you now have a chance to decide what it should be. Now don't get me wrong, I love robins, but cute and familiar as they may be they do not have the charisma of our preferred candidate, the Northern Lapwing.
The lapwing occurs on all of Britain's Isles and it is with us all year around. It is a relatively common bird to see, indeed it is Britain’s commonest wader which anyone can see just by driving around country roads in winter when great flocks of them can sometimes be encountered.
In the breeding season they have the most extraordinary display when they hurl themselves into the air pirouetting and tumbling about the sky above their wetland meadow breeding habitat and calling the onomatopoeic name that they have often been given in the past “peewit”.
They may be Britain’s commonest wader, but they are also, like almost all waders, suffering a decline, we have lost 50% in the last 30 years. If the Lapwing were to be elected as our national bird then its conservation would surely be enhanced in order to protect part of our national heritage. Its decline can be directly attributed to the intensification and changes in practice of farming in the UK.
The lapwing, peewit, green plover or wype as it is and has been variously known is also steeped in our history and culture. It features in many poems by writers such as Shelley, Jonson, Joyce and Clare. Shakespeare referred to it with a considerable insight into its behavior. In Hamlet he refers to the precocial behaviour of the newly hatched young when Horatio says “This Lapwing runs away with the shell on his head.” In Comedy of Errors there is reference to the lapwings distraction display of the parent drawing intruders away from its nest where Adriana says “Far from her nest the lapwing cries away:”. This demonstrates to me that in those days people were very familiar with this lovely wader.
Even Emily Brontë had something to say about lapwings through Catherine Earnshaw in Wuthering Heights as she identifies feathers she pulls from a pillow she had just torn asunder in a fit of pique "That's a turkey's," she murmured to herself; "and this is a wild-duck's; and this is a pigeon's. Ah, they put pigeons' feathers in the pillows--no wonder I couldn't die! Let me take care to throw them on the floor when I lie down. And here is a moor-cock's; and this--I should know it among a thousand--it's a lapwing's. Bonny bird; wheeling over our heads in the middle of the moor. It wanted to get to its nest, for the clouds touched the swells, and it felt rain coming. This feather was picked up from the heath, the bird was not shot--we saw its nest in the winter, full of little skeletons. Heathcliff set a trap over it, and the old ones dare not come. I made him promise he'd never shoot a lapwing, after that, and he didn't. Yes, here are more! Did he shoot my lapwings, Nelly? Are any red, any of them? Let me look." It seems that the poor lady was going slightly berserk at the time, but clearly she had affection for our beloved lapwing and therefore we can assume, I hope, did Emily Brontë.
So who are we to disparage this great bird in the face of such auspicious reverence?
What of its plumage characteristics, what do they suggest to you?
Are you old enough to remember British racing green, the colours that sports cars were painted back in the day? Well, if you are not, google it and you’ll see that the lapwing is daubed with British racing green on its back.
And finally to bring the lapwing into the modern world another compelling argument in favour of this bird from its plumage has to be the striking black and white head, what else could so neatly define modern, multi-cultural Britain!
I put it to you dear fellow Briton, that this should surely be our national bird, and our campaign to promote it as such starts here, today.