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The TOP 10: Best National Flags Featuring Birds

Who can deny the power of the bird as a national symbol? Certainly not the nations that make up the ABA Area. The United States has been associated with the Bald Eagle for as long as it has been a nation, and though the Common Loon has only officially been on Canadian currency since 1987, the “loonie” is as much a part of Canadian culture as the maple leaf and the mountie, so much so that the Royal Canadian Mint secured the rights to the name. Good luck to the Gray Jay in achieving that sort of saturation. Even oft-forgotten St. Pierre et Miquelon gets into the fun, though the Gallic rooster gets docked for being a domestic bird.

There are a handful of nations that even splash their ornithophiliac tendencies right on their national flags. And we are going to celebrate them today, amateur ornithologists and vexililologists one and all.

Criteria for ranking is entirely my own, but weight is given for novelty, artistry, and ornithological accuracy, which means the various double-headed eagles of eastern Europe don’t make the cut here (not to mention the much rarer and more grotesque triple-headed eagle). At least not when there is a veritable field guide of creative bird iconography to choose from. So without further ado…

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10. Fiji – There are surprisingly few doves incorporated into national flags, what with the group’s long association with peace. The island nation of Fiji is certainly an appropriate place for one, however, as Columbids are well-known for their ability to disperse far and wide and the group reaches the apex of its diversity in the south Pacific. It’s sad then, that Fijians must suffer with the mundane “white dove of peace”, a form known more from weddings and Olympic ceremonies than in the wild. They could have done much better! This is, after all, the country that boasts spectacular endemics like the Orange Dove and the Golden Fruit Dove. What a missed opportunity!

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9. Zambia – The veldts of sub-saharan Africa are famously high in raptor diversity, so it’s appropriate that this nation in the center of southern Africa features one so prominently. Referred to as an African Fish Eagle, the orangish coloration would be a better fit for any of the Aquila species in the area. The neighboring nation of Zimbabwe also features an eagle, but as it is a pictorial rendering of an ancient statue of a Bateleur (or an African Fish Eagle as well, sources differ), the accuracy of the bird is lost a little in all that translation. Egypt also boasts an eagle, though it is definitely in the heraldic style. Zambia’s eagle is the best representation on an eagle-rich continent.

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8. Kazhakstan – Keeping in the eagle theme, central Asia is no slouch when it comes to raptor diversity. With the fall of the Soviet Union in 1994, the new nation of Kazhakstan looked far back in its history for new national symbols. Hunting with eagles has long been a cultural tradition on the steppes and the people of the region have a long history of adorning their flags with images of Golden Eagles. The Steppe Eagle under a golden sun in a blue sky is as unambiguous a symbol as one could create for this nation of high plains.

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7. Mexico – As the story goes, the Aztec people of what is now central Mexico picked the site of their capital, Tenochtitlan, based on a vision of an eagle sitting on a cactus devouring a snake. That iconic symbol has been associated with Mexico for centuries, making up the Mexican coat of arms and placed in the center of the Mexican flag. Officially, the bird has always been a Golden Eagle though Mexican ornithologist Rafael Martín del Campo suggested that the Aztecs were probably referring to a Crested Caracara. In this birder’s opinion, a flashy caracara taking the place of the eagle would have made the symbol better, but it’s hard to argue that it wasn’t pretty great already. It’s easily the best of the eagle flags.

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6. Kiribati – The island nation of Kiribati is perhaps better known by westerners, or fans of World War II history, as the Gilbert Islands. Though the population and land mass of the nation is small, the islands that make it up are scattered widely across a vast stretch of Pacific Ocean northeast of Australia. Perhaps it’s appropriate, then, that the flag depicts that great pelagic wanderer, the frigatebird. Though the Lesser Frigatebird on the image is a bit over-stylized, the flag wins big for novelty. Seabirds are far too infrequently used as national symbols in my opinion.

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5. Ecuador – It feels sort of right that one of the most popular South American birding destinations would have a bird, front and center, on its national flag. And what a bird it is, the Andean Condor is a target species for any birder traveling to Ecuador. The yellow-blue-red design is a popular one in South America, descended from the 19th century nation of Gran Colombia and shared by both Colombia and Venezuela, with Colombia’s coat of arms even featuring a slightly more ornithologically accurate condor. But Colombia didn’t put it on their flag, sadly. Bolivia also features a very similar condor on its flag, but it’s less prominent. It does however feature an alpaca, so it’s a shoe-in for any list of flags featuring camelids.

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4. Guatemala –The top four flags are all about novelty, nations who have eschewed the too-easy raptor route and gone with species that symbolize their respective nations in more evocative ways. It’s hard to go wrong with a Resplendent Quetzal, the flashy trogon is on the short list of the world’s most beautiful species and a can’t miss target bird on many trips to Central America. Guatemala’s national bird is given a prominent spot on its flag which is also one of only two in the world with firearms featured. If I had one criticism, however, it’s that the quetzal is too small. Gotta get that out front more.

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3. Papua New Guinea – Birders think of Papua New Guinea and they think of one thing – birds-of-paradise. And don’t let it be said that the people of Papua New Guinea don’t know what to lead with. The flashy flag of the southeast Asian nation feature the silhouette of a Raggiana Bird-of-Paradise, one of the larger and flashier species in the family and the country’s national bird though, it should be mentioned, not a national endemic as the island of New Guinea is part Indonesia. Papua New Guinea gets points for novelty, both for the species and the fact that it isn’t simply a representation of the coat of arms as in so many other nations. Though when your coat of arms is as spectacular as Papua New Guinea’s is, it’s a bit of a shame to only go with a silhouette.

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2. Uganda – Aside from raptors, cranes are probably the most numerous wild bird depicted in art, and while a number of east Asian nations have used cranes in various symbols only one country features a crane on its flag. For that honor, we have to go to Uganda, whose Gray Crowned Crane has been a national symbol since British colonial days. While Uganda rightly dropped many vestiges of colonialism upon its own independence, the nation wisely kept the crane. On the flag, the bird manages to straddle the line between style and ornithological accuracy, a surprisingly difficult line to walk.

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1. Dominica – We’ve had flags that feature birds of their countries and flags that feature relatively accurate depictions of birds, but only in the little island nation of Dominica do those characteristics come together. The Imperial Parrot, locally called Sisserou, is endemic to the Caribbean island. It’s a big, purple red and green, flashy Amazona parrot, and it sits right smack dab in the middle of this flag where it is a proud symbol of a nation’s natural heritage. It’s the only flag on earth featuring a parrot, and the only flag on earth featuring a national endemic bird species. Who could ask for more?

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Did I miss anything? Did I get them wrong? I stuck to national flags, but there are undoubtedly some good choices among states/provinces/territories/etc. Share any other examples of vexililogical ornithology in the comments!

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Nate Swick

Nate Swick

Editor, Social Media Manager at American Birding Association
Nate Swick is the editor of the American Birding Association Blog, social media manager for the ABA, and the host of the American Birding Podcast. He lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with his wife, Danielle, and two young children. He is the author of Birding for the Curious and The ABA Field Guide to Birds of the Carolinas.
Nate Swick

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  • Alexander Lin-Moore

    Also worth noting that thanks to the Sisserou, Dominica is the only national flag with purple on it!

    • I did not know that. Nice piece of trivia!

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