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Many countries have a national flower, bird or animal, and some places have certain districts that glory in their own representative plants or animals. Choosing a national animal is part of the culture of nature-loving nations and a tool to generate local identification. It is also a way to raise the issue of environmentalism and animal protection.

Some think the time has come for Israel to have a national bird to call its own. Amir Balaban, director of the Jerusalem Bird Observatory, suggests that the Israeli public should be a partner in locating a bird that will represent the country and be identified with it.

Balaban has already chosen the bird he thinks is worthy of the title: the bulbul, a songbird that is common in Israel.

"There are a few candidates," said Balaban. "The bulbul is prevalent both in open areas and in urban areas. It's true, the house sparrow is also prevalent, but it's not found in open areas and it's not sufficiently 'festive.'"

The Palestine sunbird, a small songbird known in Hebrew as tzufit, was almost crowned the national bird, but its English name kept it out of the running. Dan Alon, director of the Israel Ornithology Center, part of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, said the red-footed falcon is also a candidate.

"Almost every country has a national bird," said Alon. "But it's meaningful only if you do something with it. In the United States, that means that every child sits and learns about the bird. It has to be a stimulus for a broad educational program."

Alon said he and several others have suggested to the Environment Ministry that a national bird and flower be chosen as part of Israel's 60th anniversary celebrations in 2008. After some hesitation, Alon showed his cards: He too supports the bulbul.

Balaban said the characteristics of the chosen bird should reflect that of the nation it represents.

"The bulbul has such characteristics," he said, citing long-term relationships and an emphasis on family. "It also has characteristics that generate identification and empathy: its song is boisterous, happy and jovial."

However, Balaban admitted to some disadvantages in his chosen bird. "Some will say that it makes a lot of noise but doesn't have a great voice. They'll also say against it that it's very common, 'simple.' It's also a bit of an opportunist, slipshod, steals nesting material and takes pride in it. In short, it doesn't like getting screwed."

Then there's another difficulty: "It's true that there's a problem with the name, which has become a nickname for the male sexual organ," said Balaban.

But that's not enough to deter Balaban. "In calculating all the characteristics," he said, the bulbul "is a fitting candidate."