American Birding Podcast



The TOP 10: World Cup Team Crests Featuring Birds

The World Cup, arguably the biggest sporting event in the world, kicks off this week in Russia. Unfortunately, ABA birders and soccer fans lack an obvious rooting interest as the United States missed out on the tournament for the first time in nearly 30 years and Canada’s sole qualification came in 1986. Fear not though, as birds are given a prominent place on the crests worn by 10 nations, and you could do worse than picking from that group as you watch the World Cup this month and next.

Criteria for ranking is entirely my own, but weight is given for novelty, artistry, and ornithological accuracy. So without further ado…


10) Russia – Eastern Europe is famous for its heraldic double-headed eagles. The image has been used since Roman times and is associated with the Holy Roman and Byzantine Empires in the 12th Century. Soccer federation crests are often heavily influenced by national coats of arms, and the host nation’s is no different. The Russians got a relatively easy draw this year as befitting the host nation, and may wear their eagle of unknown species into the second round though are unlikely to make a deep run.

First game: 6/14, 11 AM ET versus Saudi Arabia (bird v. bird!)


9) Poland – Another eastern European eagle of uncertain species* graces the uniform of Poland. The Poles didn’t even bother to come up with a stylized version of their coat of arms, simply placing said coat of arms on the uniform. It does, however, lend itself to consistency as the Polish national soccer team has worn the crowned eagle on a field of red for more than 100 years. Poland has a good chance to advance out of a tough group that also features fellow bird-wearing team Japan. Robert Lewandowski is one of the finest strikers in the world and Poland will go as far as he can take them.

*Edit to add: Jason Pietrzak writes to say that the bird in the crest is likely a White-tailed Eagle, Haliaeetus albicilla, Poland’s national bird whose local name, bielik, is the diminutive form of the word “white”.

First game: 6/19, 11 AM ET, versus Senegal

8) Germany – An eagle again, though at least this time the team wearing it is almost certain to make a deep run in this year’s tournament. The black eagle features prominently on Germany’s coat of arms and its modern stylized equivalent on the national team’s uniform. In the past the bird has been known as Reichsadler, or Imperial Eagle, which has the benefit of actually being a real species, though in a country loath to glorify its imperial past it is now known as the Bundesadler, or federal eagle. No word on whether Aquila heliaca  is similarly rebranded. Germany has won the World Cup four times, including the last one in 2014, and is considered a favorite to do so again this year.

First game: 6/17, 11 AM ET, versus Mexico (bird v. bird!)

7) Tunisia – Yes, it’s another unspecified eagle, but at least the Tunisians have worked it into their team’s nickname which is worth being bumped up the standings. Les Aigles de Carthage, or The Carthage Eagles, have the distinction of being the first African team to ever win a game in a World Cup tournament with a victory over fellow bird-wearing team Mexico in 1978. This is their 5th World Cup, and they’ve never made it out of the first round. They are unlikely to do so this year.

First game: 6/18, 2 pm ET, versus England


6) Nigeria – The “Super Eagles” of Nigeria have historically been one of the most successful African teams in the World Cup, reaching the knock-out rounds twice, most recently in 2014. The team’s name is derived from the green eagle on the soccer federation logo, which is different from a red bird on the nation’s coat of arms. Only the men’s team is known as the “Super Eagles”, the women are the “Super Falcons” despite the logo clearly featuring an eagle. Go figure. Nigeria is always a tough out in any competition and their group is wide open outside of Argentina. It would not be a surprise to see them advance out of the group stage, nor would it be a surprise to see them finish last.

First game: 6/16, 3 PM ET, versus Croatia

5) France –  France’s Les Bleus have the distinction of being one of four nations that participated in the inaugural World Cup in 1930, and have participated in 14 since, winning one. Though the bird is domestic rather than wild (they get docked there), the coq gaulois, or Gallic rooster, has been an unofficial symbol of France since the Middle Ages, thought to be derived from a pun on the Latin word “Gallus” which means a native of Gaul (old France) when capitalized and “gallus”, or rooster, when not. France is bringing an extremely talented team to the World Cup in 2018, and should cruise through their group stage. They can be considered a dark horse to win the whole thing should their undeniable individual talent translate to collective will.

First game: 6/16, 6 AM ET, versus Australia (bird v. bird!)

4) Mexico – If ABA birders are looking to keep their rooting interest on the continent, they could do far worse than El Tri. Mexico has advanced out of the group stage in every World Cup since 1994 and is well-suited to do so again. The crest, a variation on the national coat of arms, features the “Mexican Eagle” of the Aztec legend about the founding of Tenochtitlan. 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. On the flag it’s brown, but here it is white so one could easily fix it with a well-deployed Sharpie.

First game: 6/17, 11 AM ET, versus Germany (bird v. bird!)

3) Saudi Arabia – Yes, it’s another raptor, but at least the nation of Saudi Arabia went a slightly different direction. Saudi Arabia’s national team is known as the “Green Falcons” or Al-Suqour (the Falcons) and it’s an image they’ve run with despite the fact that the actual team lacks the speed and power generally associated with those birds. No matter, in terms of iconography Saudi Arabia’s team is a winner off the field even if they are likely to be run ragged on it. This is the fifth World Cup for the Saudis, and they’ve consistently finished towards the bottom. There’s no reason to expect anything different this time. That’s a shame though, the logo looks sharp.

First game: 6/14, 11 AM ET versus Russia (bird v. bird!)

2) Japan – The top two teams were neck and neck, with Japan missing out only because their logo features only one bird instead of three. But from a creative and cultural perspective it’s hard to beat. Japan’s national team goes by the fairly unoriginal nickname “Samurai Blue” but the logo, featuring the cool “Three-legged Crow” is far more interesting. The image of the Three-legged Crow is a common one throughout East Asia, and the character plays an important role in mythology of China, Korea, and Japan, where it is often used to represent the sun or as a messenger from heaven. More than that, the bird looks to be a pretty faithfully depicted Large-billed Crow, Corvus macrorhynchos, known in Japan as hashi-buto-garasu. The crow on the emblem is said to symbolize power and quickness, and was adopted in 1931, in honor of Kakunosuke Nakamura, considered to be the founding father of soccer in Japan. As for the team itself, Japan is usually an entertaining group, but they have a tough group and will be hard-pressed to advance to the knock-out rounds.

First game: 6/19 8 AM ET, versus Colombia

1) Australia – Yes, Australia’s uniform features a fairly uncreative interpretation of the national coat of arms, but when that coat of arms has an Emu, Dromaius novaehollandiae, on it to celebrate Australia’s amazing and bizarre national wildlife heritage, that’s enough to bump it up a few slots. But the Emu isn’t enough for first place on its own. The six-panel shield in the center represents Australia’s six states, two of which are represented by birds themselves. Western Australia is symbolized in the lower middle by a Black Swan, Cygnus atratus, one of Australia’s most distinctive waterbirds. The lower left panel is taken over by an “Australian Piping Shrike” symbolizing the state of South Australia. While piping shrike is not an official common name, it is widely assumed to refer to the Australian Magpie, Gymnorhina tibicen, a crow-like Australian endemic. Despite this veritable complete eBird checklist of a crest, the Australian national team is known as the “Socceroos”, which is just the sort of bad karma which will surely defeat them at this tournament. It doesn’t help that their group is a very tough one, though striker Tim Cahill could become only the fourth player to score in four different World Cups. Enjoy them while you can.

First game: 6/16, 6 AM ET, versus France (bird v. bird!)


Enjoy the tournament!