Mozart crossed with Ian Dury

Favouritism can be a fickle business. I can change my mind about my favourite mammal, amphibian or bird in an instant, so diverse are the triggers. Stoat, otter or beaver? Frog, toad or newt? It must be something to do with the cocktail of hormones that reconfigure the system when you’re engaging with nature.

When it comes to birds, the fickleness rises to a new level. What’s the trigger? Birdsong? If so, there are one or two front runners, but still I find it difficult to arrive at a clear cut, this bird is the Miles Davis of the avian world, decision.

The robin has to be near the top of the list. It sings for so much of the year and its cascade of notes and endless creativity is riveting. During the cold months, I often pause in the garden when a robin is nestling in the hedge and vocalising at a reduced volume, just like someone singing a song to themselves sotto voce. It is a minor key version of the spring virtuosity and guaranteed to lift ones spirits.

Then spring arrives and the pocket rocket produces an avalanche of notes at a volume inconsistent with their size, belting out a tune that is bewitching to us but a battle cry to them, pugilistically shouting ‘come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough’.

At the same time, another contender will enter the fray, the blackbird. Again the sheer diversity of the blackbird’s song is extraordinary. But for me, there’s an element that sets it apart from the robin, giving it, on occasion, a narrow lead. The blackbird is a musical hybrid, Mozart crossed with Ian Dury. Every phrase will begin with originality and end with a joke, a parp like a toy trumpet, a wheeze or something that sounds suspiciously like a fart. What a performer.

Of course, both of these virtuosos are commonplace show-offs, permanent residents in every garden. What about the curlew? A simple song but the ultimate harbinger of spring. The ring ouzel can transport me with just a simple three note call and the goldfinch’s ‘twiddly dip, twiddly dip’ as it flits around is guaranteed to put a smile on my face. Virtuosity is one thing, context and the siren call of the seasons is another.

But it’s not just song is it? The way a bird flies can transfix me. Obviously, a swift acrobatically feeding is a joy. The speed and manouverability is probably second to none and add the joyful ‘weeeeeeeeee!’ as they caper together and it’s a potent mix.

Feather-weight pugilist

But what about the peregrine? Seeing it stoop, picking up speed like a fighter plane, reaching a velocity that makes it difficult for your eyes to keep up, is exhilarating. Or the raven flipping onto its back, the buzzard effortlessly riding thermals, the sparrow-hawk shape-shifting it’s way through the smallest gaps at breakneck speed to feed, all of them tug at my heart-strings.

And then, finally, it can be something as simple as parent birds feeding newly fledged chicks. Generally, one of the most common examples of this is blue tits. The youngsters are pleasingly fluffy and plead with mum and dad to nourish them with a constant ‘peep peep’ call and a wing shimmy that screams ‘feed me’. The pull is intense and the adults will flit amongst the branches of a tree gathering bugs or masticating sunflower seeds from a feeder in order to satisfy their demanding chicks. Once fed, the youngsters will often slip away and feed themselves with alacrity before once again pretending to be on the verge of starvation.

Who needs favourites? Nature simply boosts well-being every time you engage with it and that’s why our allegiances oscillate so endlessly. And whenever it’s a new siting or behaviour, that simply adds to the roster and makes deciding on favourites even more of a chore.