My Birding Grand Slam XV

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My Birding Grand Slam XV

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As you may or may not be aware, there is a bit of a rugby game going on in Cardiff tomorrow. There is the small matter of Wales trying to win a third Grand Slam in seven seasons. So as Grand Slam fever hits our capital, it got me thinking of a Grand Slam winning team of birds. What birds would make the starting line up? What skills would they require to fill the positions? Here is what I came up with for a bit of fun, if you feel something else should have been included, feel free to leave a comment in the boxes below.

Full Back – The Marsh Harrier

Male Marsh Harriers perform food passes in flight to the female during the courtship ritual, a skill perfect for the role of full back and plucking those testing “up and unders” from out of the air.

Right Winger – The Goshawk

The Goshawk is the George North of the birding world. A fierce brute of a bird, but coupled with speed and agility that makes it one of the masters of the woodland predators. If it spots a gap, it can put on a frightening turn of speed and be on you within seconds.

Outside Centre – The Swift

If the Goshawk is king of the woods, the Swift surely holds majesty of the skies. With a side step that would shame Gerald Davies, the Swift would be an ideal bird to make those all-important breaks around the outside, and be sent screaming down the middle of the pitch.

Inside Centre – The Bittern

The ability to lurk and remain elusive is required for the Inside Centre, but then to pounce on any opportunity that comes along. The Bittern, with its ability to remain almost invisible in reed beds but yet show a remarkable burst of power and cunning guile to catch its prey, would make it a good candidate for any team with title ambitions.

Outside Half – The Blackbird

Possibly a controversial choice here, I could have gone for a bulkier bird with quick thinking abilities, such as a Magpie, but I wanted a vocal outside half who could command respect of those around him. The male Blackbird has to be one of the top songsters in the country, and probably along with another member of my team, one of two birds most people can identify by sound alone.

Left Winger – The Merlin

If bulk and speed are required on the right wing, so we need Wales’s own Shane Williams of the birding world on the left wing. The Merlin is another bird that is synonymous with Wales, and proof that there is no substitute for speed. It is also Britain’s smallest bird of prey and as such is evidence that size does not matter!

Scrum Half – The Little Grebe

 With the modern demands of the game, maybe a bigger number nine would have been chosen, but I have decided to hark back to the days of Robert Jones, and chose a small scrum half, with the ability to duck and dive quickly. The number nine is always the pretty boy of the team, and they don’t come much prettier than this petite water bird. These days his bigger cousin, in the mould of Mike Phillips would have been chosen, in the shape of Great Crested Grebe, but I am an old traditionalist at half, so the Little Grebe gets the nod!

The Props – The Dunnock and The Bullfinch

I chose two stocky, solid little birds to front up in the scrums. The Dunnock a renowned under-performer in the birding world, saddled with the unfortunate “little brown job” tag, but always busy, and always doing the unseen work in the hedgerows. The Bullfinch is bullish in name, and bullish in nature, always demanding attention dressed in his pristine Welsh shirt!

The Hooker – The Robin

Like the scrum half, you need a vocal performer to call the line out throws, and like the Bullfinch, the Robin comes dressed in his own Welsh shirt. Like all good hookers, the Robin can be mean and aggressive, and can get under the feathers of all the other birds on the field of play!

The Second Row – The Grey Heron and The Red Kite

The first pre-requisite for any second row is long legs. They don’t come any leggier than the Grey Heron. As with any rugby union lock, you wonder how the Heron can even get airborne, but it does, and the Heron fills the number four position in my t eam.

My number five and captain of the side is the Red Kite. Is there any other bird that is more synonymous with Wales than the Red Kite? They became as rare as Grand Slams in the 80’s with numbers down to just two breeding pairs in the 1930’s, their revival has mirrored Wales’s rugby successes to some degree. This is bird that can soar high and majestically, and has Wales running through its soul.

Blindside Flanker – The Cuckoo

The one player who has to get through more of the dirty work than any other in a rugby team is the blind side flanker. He is also always on the edges of the law, and likely to be sent to the sin bin. He takes the knocks so someone else can take the plaudits. Can you think of a better bird other than the Cuckoo to fill this role? The bad boy of the birding world, who lays her egg in another birds nest, and lets someone else get the glory of raising its young. The Cuckoo is always on that boundary of what we think of as acceptable behaviour or not.

Openside Flanker – The Coot

Any good open side flanker needs an impressive charge. Their sole aim is to flatten the outside half mid pass. The Coot surely has the best headlong dash around. We all must have seen two Coots having a territorial dust up, and the one chasing the other across the surface of the pond. This single minded intent means they can walk on water it seems, and that puts them straight into my team.

Number Eight – The Osprey

Two key components to the number eight position in a rugby team are ball carrying skills and being a crash ball specialist. The Osprey has both these skills in spades! The speed and power required to smash into water and catch their prey is hugely impressive and dramatic, but their deft handling of their fish prey after the kill is astounding. The Osprey turns the fish, after catching it, so it is streamlined into the direction of its flight, thus reducing any drag, a highly specialised bird for a highly specialised position.

So there you have my Birding Grand Slam XV … a team worthy of gracing your patch where ever you are in the country I think you will agree.


  • Lol .. very good point Bev! ;o) I shall correct it now ... that was proof read three times too, all as gender confused as me!

  • Just read this as had a bit of spare time. Brilliant Ant. Only thing I'd point out (as a teacher) is that the Cuckoo doesn't lay HIS egg does it?!?!?!

  • I'll tell you what . . . we haven't got any turkeys in our team! And talking of birds, bring on the Kiwis I say :-)

    Great blog Anthony . . . as always.

  • A fantastic bird team to mirror the champions of the Welsh team!

  • Also Well done Ant another great blog

  • Thanks Cath :):) and as we are on the only game that makes sense, RIP Merve the swerve and i am old enough to have seen his magnificent presence at the Arms Park many times

  • I think Al's coots could play for the All Blacks :)

  • Thank you all! ;o)

  • Oh, I forgot to say, I think there may be a few Ospreys, in the Actual team ;)

  • Brilliant!  Well thought out!

    Good luck for tomorrow Wales!

  • Only bird I would love to see a place for is the Peregrine, Fastest thing around, Used to performing in city centre venues, and if you've ever been lucky enough to see one hunting, hits like a runaway freight train - one for the replacements bench, maybe, for that last minute try to take the win :)

  • Brilliant! A lot of thought and a sound knowledge of rugby.  May I take the opportunity to add that the merlin is particularly apt in light of Shane Williams' nickname 'Y Dewin Bach' (The little magician).  Of course his replacement is rather bigger, more in the Gandalf mode, but a magician nevertheless.  Diolch, Anthony, for providing a welcome distraction from the admin. on a dreary Friday.  Enjoy the ... dare I mention it? - no ... rugby tomorrow!