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Top Song Birds

Bird On! News
24th February 1997

Chris Mead

An interesting list of Britain's top songbirds has been provided by Mori, the opinion poll company, to mark the start of the new BBC TV Birding with Bill Oddie on 20th February. Over 2,000 people were polled for the RSPB and BBC. Two questions were asked and 58 species featured in the answers.

The first question: What is the most beautiful bird? Robin came first, followed by Kingfisher and Golden Eagle. Blue Tit came fourth followed by Kestrel and Barn Owl. Magpie, to some an absolute villain, came seventh and Mute swan, Blackbird and Chaffinch completed the top ten.

The second question: Which bird has the most beautiful song or call? The clear winner was the Song Thrush followed by its close relative the Blackbird. In joint third place came Nightingale, Skylark and Robin. All these have complex and pleasing songs but the others in the top ten are not noted for the beauty of their songs! They were Blue Tit, Cuckoo, House Sparrow, Chaffinch and Starling!

I am sad that one of my favourites, the Blackcap, did not feature in the top ten. This species is one of the success stories of recent years with expanding populations so that it is now one of our most numerous summer migrants. Its sweet and varied warbling song is a real joy.

The Song Thrush, or mavis or throstle as it was known to the romantic poets, features in many poems. The best known was probably Browning:

That's the wise thrush: he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!

In fact the top ten birds in poetry, from the Penguin Book of Bird Poetry were as follows:
 1. Nightingale57 references
 2. Skylark45 references
 3. Robin44 references
 4. Cuckoo32 references
 5. Song Thrush27 references
 6. Wren23 references
 7. Magpie18 references
 8. House Sparrow17 references
 9. Mute Swan15 references
10. Linnet14 references

There were a lot of references to general groups of birds - 24 doves, 21 owls and 17 geese. However the list does show that the very many of the birds that turned up at the head of the list on the Mori poll are the ones which have been held in high esteem for several centuries. Of the 16 birds appearing in the top ten on the two Mori lists, half featured in the poetic top ten.

The two omitted were the Wren and the Linnet. They both have claims to public acclaim this century with the Wren featured on the farthing and the Linnet memorably commemorated as a cage bird by the music hall song. Marie Lloyd followed the van with her 'old cock Linnet'.

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