National Birds | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, July 23, 2016 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, July 23, 2016


National Birds

Many nations of the world have national birds. They are usually native birds that can be found easily, and in many ways become a symbol of the nation.

Our national bird is, of course, the doel (oriental magpie robin or copsychus saularis.) The male looks black from above, whereas the female is a greyish black. Juvenile doels are brownish. The species can be found across south and southeast Asia with slight variations in colour and size.

Of the seven hundred species of birds that can be seen in Bangladesh, doel is one of the most common. It often sings loudly and is an agile flyer. Hopping on the ground, it hunts insects and smaller reptiles for food. Its black and white pattern is most beautiful when it spreads its tail wings into a fan, while perching or just before flight. 

The national bird of America is the bald eagle. It is the national emblem, seen in many official seals, including that of the president and the Great Seal of the United States. The magnificent bird is an appropriate symbol for the nation, but one of the founding fathers, Ben Franklin, was not fond of it. He wanted the turkey as the American national bird, favouring it because it was a “bird of courage” as opposed to the eagle which he thought was “immoral.”

The Philippines originally had the black-headed munia as its national bird. But President Fidel Ramos changed this. He thought that the small munia represented low self-esteem and too much humility. The Philippine Eagle which succeeded the diminutive munia as the national bird is a large, powerful bird, capable of magnificent flight. It is supposed to represent the Philippino character and aspirations better.

Uganda's national bird is one of my favourites: the elegant crowned crane. Seeing a flock of them on an Ugandan hillside was one of the highlights of my birding career. Several African countries, including Zambia, Malawi, South Sudan and Zimbabwe, share the African fish eagle as their national bird. Granted, this eagle is an impressive bird. But couldn't they have picked separate birds, given there are ten thousand species of birds in the world?

Falcons are also popular as national birds. Iceland has the gyr falcon, the largest member of the falcon family. Hungary and Mongolia go with the saker falcon while Belgium nationalises the common kestrel. The peregrine falcon shows up as the national bird of United Arab Emirates.

Closer to home, India takes pride in her peacocks for good reason. Sri Lanka has a type of bon morog (Sri Lankan junglefowl) as her national bird.

Other than the kestrel mentioned above, several other national birds are commonly seen in Bangladesh. These include the hoopoe (Israel), white wagtail (Latvia), white-breasted waterhen (Madives), and the black-tailed godwit (Netherlands). A domesticated version of our wild bon morog (gallus gallus) is the (unofficial) national bird of France.

The most ferocious looking national bird is the harpy eagle. Weighing up to ten kilograms, its grey head is surrounded with a double crest of feathers, lending it a frightening look. It is the national bird of Panama.

Which country has the most beautiful national bird? For me, it is undoubtedly Guatemala with the resplendent quetzal, a bird I hope to see one day!

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