Review: Toft’s National Birds of the World

Toft's National Birds of the World

Toft’s National Birds of the World

At a time when David Lindo, aka ‘The Urban Birder’, is calling upon Britain to vote for its national bird, it seems a fitting time for a volume on ‘National Birds of the World’. For the record, David tells me that the European Robin is the favourite after the first stage of voting. No surprise there. Despite lingering feelings of guilt that I was cheating on the Robin, I ended up voting for the Eurasian Wren. My other five votes (one was allowed half a dozen in total) were for Hen Harrier, Northern Lapwing, Common Cuckoo, Turtle Dove and Eurasian Skylark. There is a theme here. All of these are red-listed birds of national conservation concern. What greater attention could be drawn to their plight?

So it is no coincidence that numerous national birds have been chosen by their respective countries to highlight their conservation status. Two of the world’s most critically endangered species, the Philippine Eagle and the Montserrat Oriole, are a great source of national pride and concern for the rapid deforestation of their habitat. Other endangered species flying the flag for their nations are the Kagu of New Caledonia and the Red-crowned Crane of China. The latter is contentious. It has apparently never been formally adopted in China due its scientific name – Grus japonensis – meaning ‘Japanese Crane’. Conversely, some circles in Japan consider it to be their national bird.

Perhaps no other national bird is more closely associated with its country than the Kiwi is with New Zealand. The association is so strong that the term Kiwi is used internationally as the colloquial demonym for New Zealanders. Sadly all five species of Kiwi are threatened. The Resplendent Quetzal is arguably one of the most beautiful and exotic of all tropical birds. Few would recognise it to be the national bird of Guatemala. Yet this near-threatened quetzal not only plays an important role in Mesoamerican mythologies, its image is on the Guatemalan flag and coat of arms, as well as the name of the local currency. Quetzal feathers themselves were used by the ancient Maya to barter.

The Andean Condor eponymously reflects its geographical range rather than any national affiliation. Unsurprisingly, this near-threatened New World vulture plays an important role in the folklore and mythology of the Andean regions and it is the national bird of Bolivia, Chile, Colombia and Ecuador. The other Andean nations of Argentina, Peru and Venezuela plumped for the Rufous Hornero, Andean Cock-of-the-Rock and Venezuelan Troupial respectively. The Andean Cock-of-the-Rock is one of South America’s most desired and extensively photographed species. The very same could be said for the ostensibly pheasant-like, primitive-looking and fetid Hoatzin – the national bird of Guyana.

The Middle Eastern countries of Israel and Jordan share a border but have their own distinctive national birds. Israel chose the widespread Hoopoe – surprisingly unclaimed by none other country. Its neighbour, Jordan, adopted the distinctive Sinai Rosefinch – the male’s striking hues suitably matching the rosy-pink sandstone city of Petra. The Nordic countries of Iceland and Norway also have their own idiosyncratic national birds. For centuries, the Gyrfalcon has been a precious hunting bird, highly valued among the Vikings, and was subsequently predestined the national symbol of Iceland. The charismatic White-throated Dipper was voted in by the gentle folk of Norway.

The Magnificent Frigatebird – national bird of Antigua and Barbuda – is one of the great ocean wanderers and could be claimed by a number of countries. Ultimately, however, all birds belong to us. We should celebrate each and every one. In an increasingly international world, that threatens their habitats, we all have a duty of care towards all of the wonderful species in this delightful book.


Toft's National Birds of the World

Toft’s National Birds of the World

Published: 12-16-2014
Format: Hardback Edition: 1st Extent
224 ISBN: 9781408178355
Imprint: Bloomsbury Natural History Illustrations:
550 colour images Dimensions: 8 1/4″ x 10″
List price: $25.00

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Ed Hutchings

Born in East Anglia, but raised in the Arabian Gulf, Ed Hutchings was always going to have two things – itchy feet and an inquisitive mind. After leaving university with a degree in hospitality, he Read More
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