One man was unwilling to let the country go on without the
requisite mascot. Yossi Leshem, a wild-haired ornithologist from
biodiversity only added to the difficulty of choosing a single bird to
represent the whole country. The concept of a bird representing a country--any
country--is inherently ridiculous. Birds mock borders. They are the epitome of
statelessness. Which means that
doves made the list and no hawks either, though several birds of prey were
possibilities. In interviews before the vote, Ehud Barak stumped for the lesser
kestrel, but it’s not surprising that he would be prejudiced in favor of a
pint-sized deadly striker who drops out of nowhere on its prey. The other
predators were serious long shots. The white owl is an ancient icon of wisdom
but does little more than kill and mate. The griffon vulture feeds on the dead.
Through no fault of its own, a local sunbird with a gorgeous blue sheen--just
In the later stages of the contest, the likeliest candidate
seemed to be the graceful prinia, a species of warbler commonly found in
Israeli gardens. At
But the winner, declared on May 29, was the hoopoe, a bird
with almost too much symbolic meaning, even for
Even at the announcement for the bird, however, the debate wasn’t over. President Shimon Peres regretted that the dove hadn’t been a candidate: “The dove is equipped with a homing system, which can lead it home from anywhere it may be--and despite limitations and long distances it is a true Zionist,” he said at the bird’s inauguration.
He more than anyone should know the power of avian
symbolism, and the labyrinthine ironies bird symbols generate in
Unfortunately, the bearded vulture could never have been a
candidate for national bird. It’s gone extinct in
Stephen Marche is the author, most recently, of Shining at the Bottom of the Sea, a literary anthology of an invented country.
Correction: The original version of this article erroneously stated that Tereus, the tyrant from Greek mythology, cut out his wife's tongue. In fact, he cut out the tongue of his wife's sister, with whom he had been having an affair, in order to prevent her from informing his wife.
By Stephen Marche