Yesterday, I saw my first swallow of the year. We were driving home, through the high moors around Pentrefoelas, in the last of the sun, while today’s storms were brewing over the Eryri mountains. We were going in the same direction, and we journeyed together for a while, streamers trailing. I was thinking at the time of how I’d vote in the ‘vote national bird’ initiative of David Linda (AKA The Urban Birder). He thinks it's time to question the Robin’s place as national (UK) bird, and is running an election in parallel with the general election.
But the swallow is not featured on his list. Nor sadly, are any of our many other migrant birds. Shame really, as these would symbolise an important part of our national identity, our inter-connection to the rest of the world. I’d have had sand pipers, willow warblers, cuckoos, red starts, grey wagtails and wheatears on the list for our ‘Nantperis bird’. The winter is sorry without them.
Misgivings aside, (about the short list of birds, and whether we want a UK bird, and/or one for Wales, or Scotland etc) you can vote for the barn owl, blackbird, bluetit, hen harrier, kingfisher, mute swan, puffin, red kite, robin or wren.
I think I will vote for y Dryw, the Wren.
Wren is considered a sacred bird, particularly in celtic countries. It is the subject for some lovely couplets in Welsh:
Pwy bynnag doro nyth y dryw, Ni chaiff ef weled wyneb Duw.
Whoever breaks a wren’s nest, Shall never see God’s face.
Y neb a doro nyth y dryw,Ni chaiff iechyd yn ei fyw
Whoever breaks the wren’s nest, Shall never enjoy good health.
Our wren was also subject to some sacrificial rituals like ‘hunting the wren’ and features in the stories of the Mabinogi. And there’s a good reason for all this – it has so much character, and so much bravado. You'll hear the Wren pretty much anywhere you go in the UK: Her voice, so much louder than her tiny size can be heard here on the mountain slopes or amongst the buildings in central london. Wrens seem to like to explore dry stone walls as much as I do, in and out of the crevaces, building their neat little nests cosily inside. And their character is so well captured in the story (Irish? Welsh?) about how it became king of the birds, beating the golden eagle (ah, land of Eryri) in a decisive ‘who can fly highest’ event organised by the owl: The wren hid itself in the eagles feathers, and just when the eagle reached as high as it could go, it popped out and flew up further. And so won the crown.
You can read the whole story here: http://www.untoldstories.org.uk/storytelling/irish/ir_story02.html
What about a national animal?
And do we have a national (UK, Wales) animal, I wonder? Last week, I found a pipistrelle bat in my barn studio, and saw (I think) a polecat in our garden and then over the river…. I was particularly excited about the polecat, because it features on Y Wyddor, the alphabet (Ff – Ffwlbart), created in c1900 by TC Evans (Cadrawd) of Llangynwyd.
Wikipedia suggests the ‘British Bulldog’ as our ‘national’ animal. Surely it is time for a refresh on that one. It certainly does not do for Wales, nor the UK (in fact, the Wikipedia list suggests the Red Kite is the national bird for Wales, and the dragon the animal…). It would be very hard to argue its continued relevance or desirability for England either.