Arts & Culture

At 60 Years Old, Israel is Finally Choosing a National Bird

It has recently become a bit of an issue here in Israel that there is no national bird, and so sixty years on, we're finally adopting a bird to symbolize the country. Britain is proud of its little Robin with … Read More

By / May 7, 2008

It has recently become a bit of an issue here in Israel that there is no national bird, and so sixty years on, we're finally adopting a bird to symbolize the country. Britain is proud of its little Robin with its red breast, America boasts of its bald Eagle, and Japan celebrates its own aesthetic in the shape of the elegant Crane—now Israel will join the flock.

The scheme to match Israel with her bird representative is the brainchild of Dr. Yossi Leshem, pioneering Israeli ornithologist, senior researcher in the Zoology Department at Tel Aviv University, and Director of the International Centre for the study of Bird Migration in Israel. Leshem is justly proud of the scheme, and explains that “Birds are an essential part of the future of Israel’s landscape and environment. Public awareness will be drawn to Israel’s natural ecosystem and the bird’s habitat.”

Leshem and his co-initiator Dan Alon of the Israel Ornithology Centre, based near the Knesset in Jerusalem, have designed an educational project that gives both schoolchildren in Israel's 4,000 schools (and 9500 nursery schools), and soldiers across all the IDF’s regiments, the chance to acquaint themselves with the birds that have been chosen for the contest. 13 fighter planes from the IAF have been named after birds, and the military is taking an active interest in the project.

In my garden in Jerusalem I am oft woken early to a wonderful trilling that I swear sounds like, “Here’s Gabriel." On Shabbat, it becomes “Swing Gabriel swing,” but none of the experts has as of yet identified it. A blackbird recently built her nest close by, and I often hear her young feeding. It's always a good reminder that we share this environment with such a rich plethora of bird life, all trying to adapt to sharing space with humans. This past December, over 1000 bird lovers—fondly known in the trade as ‘twitchers’—were offered the chance to draw up a list of 10 species who might fit the bill as Israel's National Bird. Criteria for these 10 include the number of times they are referenced in biblical sources, the color, and the sound of the feathered friend. Here are the 10 most favored.  To study their glorious plumage in technicolor, check out our photo gallery.

  1. The Hoopoe (Duchifat, Heb.)
  2. Yellow Tufted Sunbird – (Tsufit). This bird is also known as the Palestine Sunbird, so don’t be surprised if it doesn’t become the feathered face of Israel on a stamp…
  3. Barn Owl (Tinshemet)
  4. Lesser Kestrel (Buz Adom)
  5. Yellow Vented Bulbul (Bulbul)
  6. Griffin Vulture (Nesher)
  7. European Goldfinch (Chochit)
  8. Spur-Winged Plover (Siksak)
  9. Graceful Warbler (Pashosh)
  10. White Breasted Kingfisher (Lavan Hazeh)

Whether this will just mean another icon for the stamps, or whether the contest and accompanying educational campaigns will result in real environmental and ornithological awareness remains to be seen. Voting ends tomorrow, May 8, and President Peres will announce which of these birds the nation has chosen on May 29th, at a special ceremony in Jerusalem. Israel-focussed environmental website Green Prophet, where I also blog regularly, is running a special online poll here. So if you know your Hoopoe from your Plover, or your Warbler from your Bulbul, get involved and add your vote.

View the gallery of contenders.

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