Desert Island Birds

Something to do on a long solo car journey is to consider what eight species of British bird you would take with you to a desert island in lieu of utterly useless gramophone records.  It is by no means easy, beyond some initial choices.    

To the pragmatist the early items are obvious: Pheasant, Partridge (grey), Woodcock, Mallard, Grey-lag Goose, and take a good shotgun + ammo as your luxury.  But how do you finish?  You cannot add chicken as that is hardly a British bird, and your choices may place you in breach the third deadly sin, gluttony.  No, we need some rules and criteria: you are not allowed more than two highly edible birds, and chickens are not native or naturalised in the British Isles (apart from on a single roundabout in Norfolk, where fighting cocks were naturalised by travellers).  The desert island by the way, is temperate – and by that I mean it has a temperate climate, with four seasons: washed ashore with you is a large supply of decent claret.

Those of us who are fired up by the beauty and wonder of nature have other problems, notably that of what to leave out.   Never mind feeding the body, the soul is hungrier and less easily denied.  You may only be able to have one of House Martin, Sand Martin, Swallow and Swift.  Now, that is decision-making at its hardest.  I know, having been through the process (it took several car journeys, and the answer was House Martin).

The Blackbird must be on all our lists, as it is without any question of doubt our premier garden song bird.  Spring would not be spring without the Blackbird, a garden would not be a garden, and England would not be England.  It is that quintessential.  I would be quite content to have eight regional variations of the Blackbird, for they definitely have dialects.  Many of us would take the Song Thrush too.  I wouldn’t, as it drowns out other songbirds, and gets over excited and repeats itself terribly.  The Mistle Thrush has to be a wiser choice.  Its song is so magical that it cannot be envisaged in the mind, nor can anyone imitate it. 

The seasonal element is also important.  March belongs to the Rook.  Some of us would have to have a rookery, and not because of the prospect of Rook pie.  They are also magical at other times of year, not least in winter when they warm up, motionless in the trees, in weak sunshine after clear frosty nights, and in autumn when they feed in the fields.  Consider the Rook: it may be central to our rural culture, part of the essential experience of Home.  It is for me.

Some summer songsters are essential.  The poet in me insists on the Nightingale, though I once lived so close to a veritable infestation of them that I was seriously deprived of sleep for eight weeks each year (no way could I live near Corncrakes).  No, as a disciple of Keats, the Nightingale is a must for me.  I would also have to have either a Chiffchaff or a Willow Warbler, probably the former but either would do and I’d like both. 

We need a raptor to keep the rabble in order (though cock Mistle Thrushes are handy here).  I cannot choose between Buzzard and Red Kite, the Buddhists of the raptor world.  Perhaps the Red Kite is lovelier.

Oh heck!  I’ve only got one left…  But I cannot name it in case I offend you by leaving out your favourite bird.

Now it’s your turn…  Good luck, you’ll need it.