As a birder one has to put up with many cliched jokes and questions whenever someone you’ve just met learns what your hobby is. Old favourites include ‘Seen any great tits?’ (you can substitute tits for boobies – a type of gannet – or shags etc. the list goes on) or ‘oh, you’re a twitcher then?’ sometimes because of honest ignorance of the difference but often with a condescending smirk. A very regular question that comes up after I’ve established exactly what my hobby involves, is ‘what’s your favourite bird?’, at first glance an easy and innocent question, but one which has never failed to stump me for an answer.

I don’t quite see what exactly the person asking the question is hoping to hear; they probably don’t actually care but are asking out of polite interest, at the same time they probably want you to say a bird that they will know, so they can reply that they like that too or that they saw one once while driving down the M5 – and not being birders this narrows the answer down to about ten species. So the option is to tell them a truthful answer, such as Nightjar, and spend the next ten minutes trying to describe what it looks like, or give them the answer they want so that you can get on with your life – in most cases I plump for ‘Golden Eagle’ – everyone knows what an eagle is and it is partly truthful as I do like them.

Of course the real problem with this question is that just like picking what your favourite book is – it’s impossible to choose just one. As with books, birds are incredibly varied and there are an awful lot of different species, one might also say that having favourites is the really the wrong way of thinking about wild animals. But it is difficult not to like certain species more than others – to feel happy and elated at the sight of one but not another; some are just prettier or more interesting or (dare I say it) more characterful. I am a birder not a scientist so I can be excused for a little anthropomorphism when it comes to birds.

So when I sat down (as I am now) and really thought about this question, I decided to limit the scope to British species to keep it simple and that choosing any more than twenty would take too long and also bore both myself and you. So I have whittled it down to a list of eighteen species, at last I have an answer to a question I have never answered properly, it is entirely subjective of course and my reasons for the ones I chose are personal to me – what are yours?

In no particular order:

  •  Pintail – a graceful and gorgeous duck, the best of a lovely family.
  • Red Kite – I never get tired of seeing these awesome raptors.
  • Hobby – lovely plumage patterns and colours with speed and agility to blow the mind
  • Arctic Tern – those tail streamers, those sharp wings and that fearless character.
  • Avocet – a bird invented by a 1930’s art-deco sculptor.
  • Cuckoo – both the incredible behaviour and attractive appearance stun me.
  • Short-eared Owl – I like owls and this one has given me great memories.
  • Nightjar – everything about this strange bird I love.
  • Kingfisher – my eyes always open in wonder upon seeing this jewel.
  • Dipper – a unique species that fascinates me.
  • Wren – common but with a punchy song and endearing traits, I can’t imagine a world without wrens.
  • Redstart – the male is one of the most beautiful British birds I’ve ever seen.
  • Firecrest – the avian equivalent of a precious stone, with the colours to match.
  • Bearded Reedling – an odd-one-out that intrigues my mind and boggles my eyes.
  • Long-tailed Tit – a flock of these bouncing along a winter hedgerow makes me so happy.
  • Bullfinch – one sexy bird, God knew what he was doing when he made this one.
  • Skylark – purely on here because its rapturous song raises my heart.
  • Yellowhammer – I like buntings and this one is lemon-sorbet coloured, has a catchy song and a deep rural cultural connection.

I like all birds really, these are just the ones I chose at gunpoint.