With the coronation just around the corner, we’ve been thinking about royalty in the bird world.
With their metallic copper breast and electric blue back, kingfishers live up to their name. Their distinctive colouring makes them easy to identify, but they’re fast flyers – blink and you might miss them! Bout if you’re lucky, you may spot one perched on a low hanging branch, surveying its realm and waiting patiently for unsuspecting fish to swim by. Their dense, water-resistant plumage makes them natural fishers, and their dagger-like beak is perfect for snatching up prey at lightning speed.
Goldcrests may be tiny, but they boast a shining golden crown fit for any king! Their scientific name, regulus regulus, translates as ‘king’ or ‘knight’, and in European folklore their beautiful plumage earned them the title of ‘king of the birds’. Listen for their high-pitched trilling in coniferous woodlands, particularly in the autumn when resident birds are joined by visitors on migration.
Like goldcrests, firecrests belong to the kinglet family, and the two species vie for the title of UK’s smallest bird. Both male and female firecrests have impressive crowns – females have a lemon-yellow crown, while the males’ is orange edged with black. Look out for the striking white line above the eye that distinguishes them from goldcrests.
While knot may not seem to be likely candidates for royal recognition, these birds have a noble namesake dating back to 1016, when King Canute ruled the North Sea empire. Throughout his reign he was worshipped like a God, and as if to prove the point he ordered the tide to stop coming in. Needless to say, he was unsuccessful. But what has this got to do with knot? In Scandinavia, the king’s name was pronounced ‘Knut’, a close variation of knot, and it’s thought that these diminutive birds inherited their name because of their own inability to control the tides.
When we think of royalty and birds, mute swans are often the first species to spring to mind. Since the twelfth century, the Crown has held the right to own all unmarked mute swans swimming in open water, and the royal tradition of ‘Swan Upping’ persists to this day. Dressed in scarlet rowing shirts and led by the King’s Swan Marker, Swan Uppers make an annual, five-day journey upriver on traditional Thames rowing skiffs to check the health of every mute swan they encounter.