Tribes’ travellers journey to destinations that are home to hundreds of bird species and, even if you don’t start your trip as a birder, you may find you’ve become one by the end! The concept of a national bird is an interesting one. In some cases it’s an official title, either awarded after a national vote or by a government department. In others it’s unofficial, something assumed by tradition and or long association with that country. And in some cases what one might think is the national bird isn’t!
“The peacock features strongly in Indian folklore and mythology.”
The magnificent African Fish eagle (above left) is the national bird of no less than three countries – Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe, and is widespread across the lakes, rivers and coastal areas of Southern Africa. Its white chest and head, bright yellow beak, black wings and reddish-brown body are very distinctive, and it’s often seen perched high in a tall tree, scanning a vast range of terrain. The call of the African Fish eagle is known as ‘the voice of Africa’. Living up to its name, it largely feeds on fish, but has been known to eat water birds, even flamingos.
The national birds of India and Nepal are both part of the pheasant family, though you may be surprised to learn that the Indian peacock is a pheasant at heart. India’s national bird is, perhaps above all others, most synonymous with the identity of its country, the extravagant pattern and colours of the plumage of the male peacock being replicated in Mughal architecture and in art and textiles, and the bird featuring strongly in Indian folklore and mythology.
With its metallic purple, green and blue plumage, the male Himalayan Monal – also known as the Impeyan Pheasant – is another wonderfully colourful creature. The national bird of Nepal (pictured above) prefers to live at high altitude in the summer and is a prodigious digger.
Visitors to Costa Rica could be forgiven for believing that the Resplendent quetzal (pictured below) is the national bird. It is truly stunning, especially during the mating season when the males grow tail feathers that can be up to a meter long. However, in a country that’s not short of colourful feathered inhabitants, it comes as something of a surprise to learn that the modestly-plumed Yigüirro – the Clay-coloured thrush – actually carries that title. It was chosen by the Costa Ricans in 1977 because of its strong, sweet song.
The national bird of Kenya, the Lilac-breasted roller, is a hugely charismatic bird that draws the eye and the camera lens. This beautifully-coloured creature is widely found throughout sub-Saharan Africa, where it’s mostly spotted in wooded areas or savanna. Unlike many bird species, the female is as gorgeously vibrant as the male. They’re not overly shy, so you are likely to have the chance of getting quite close to one, and they seem rather fond of adopting photogenic solitary poses on trees – often handily against a bright blue sky!
Many people think that the Lilac-breasted roller is also the national bird of Botswana but, in 2015, the world’s heaviest flying bird – the Kori bustard – was awarded that title. Kori bustards can weigh up to 19kg and, while they are strong fliers, it’s not something they do if they can avoid it, so are ground dwellers by preference. Males can reach up to 150cm in height and can have wingspans up to 275cm.
“The national bird of Peru is a very distinctive creature.”
The Andean Condor is the feathered ambassador for Bolivia, Chile and Ecuador. This is a massive bird, with a wingspan of up to 320cm. It’s also very heavy – up to 15kg – so makes use of that huge wingspan and the air currents of mountainous or coastal regions to glide. Watching condors rising on the morning thermals is a ‘must-do’ part of any holiday to this part of the world.
With its vivid scarlet plumage and fan-shaped crest, the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, the national bird of Peru, is a very distinctive creature. It is found in the cloud forests of the Andes mountains, where the males gather on leks to perform elaborate mating dance displays to attract females.
While not an official ‘national bird’, the Blue-footed booby is without a doubt the bird most people associate with the Galapagos Islands. Their feet are a stunning shade of blue and the males put them to good use when it comes to attracting a mate, lifting and proudly displaying their feet in their rather cumbersome mating ritual. Although clumsy on land, in the air these large seabirds are powerful, and they are superb divers.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering about the national bird of Britain, in 2015 a nationwide ballot of more than 200,000 people saw the robin elected to the role, beating the barn owl and blackbird to the job.
WHERE TO SEE THEM
Our consultants would be delighted to help you plan a trip to see some of these amazing birds. Here are just a few suggestions:
- See the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock in Peru
- Spot peacocks (and tigers!) in India
- Enjoy fabulous birdwatching in Nepal
- Find those Blue-footed boobies in the Galapagos Islands
- Admire Resplendent quetzals and a host of other birdlife in Costa Rica
- Watch Andean Condors rise on the thermals
- See African Fish eagles and Lilac-breasted rollers in action
- Photograph Kori bustards in their natural habitat