Wed | Aug 16, 2017

Bird is the word

Published:Saturday | February 20, 2016 | 2:00 AM

I was in the second-floor bathroom when I heard a noise outside the window. It was not loud enough to be a thief trying to scramble up the concrete post to grab hold of the sill, so bravely I opened the steel-framed window and, holding the latch firmly in the event I needed to hastily lock the window from inside, peered out to see what was out there.

It was a Blue Jean, but not one of the Levi, Wrangler or Dockers clan. This one belonged to the Tanager family, Thraupidae, a species of bird that can be found in Latin America and the Caribbean. Sexes are similar, but the immature are much duller in plumage. The bird was surprised, but not because someone had opened the window but because I, and not my wife, had peered out at him.

He was more than disappointed. He was utterly disgusted and let out a loud "Steups!" in protest and flew angrily away. Having seen that his plumage was dull and given his distinctly immature behaviour so far, I hastily pulled my head back into the bathroom and quickly shut the window to avoid any further manifestation of his juvenile delinquency.

A few days later, I went to the kitchen for an early breakfast and, having opened the glass doors of the dinnerware cupboard to get a plate, forgot to close them. When my wife came down to get her breakfast, she called loudly for me, both to announce that another feathered friend had dropped in to join us and also to seek my help in rescuing the frightened creature who was frantically crashing against the glass in the cupboard, feathers flying everywhere.

Some people have bats in their belfry and skeletons in their cupboards. We have doves. I really felt for the bird since I have near-sightedly walked into more than one glass door in my time and, in fact, I understand that when the Reverend Wesley Hall, former West Indies fast bowler and board president, got his first hat-trick against Pakistan in 1959, he, too, did the same. In other words, as James Herriot (pseudonym of veterinary surgeon, Alf Wright) said, all creatures great and small ... .

This particular creature was a ground dove but, as his behaviour demonstrated, clearly not a common one. It had entered the kitchen in search of my wife Indranie and food, although not necessarily in that order. I am not sure that he associated the plates and bowls in the cupboard with food, but given the behaviour of birds around Indranie, this is highly likely. In this case, realising that we could not feather our own nest, the dove did it for us.

My wife is an animal magnet. While one of my friends insists this is the reason she married me, she claims that the real reason is that she collects antiques. As a priceless objet d'art, I have nothing to say. The animal part explains the birds. Wherever we have lived, the birds abound and thrive. In Belize, the Kiskadees used to knock on the skylight, and, if Indranie paid them no heed, would come to the window next to our breakfast table and hit the glass repeatedly and noisily with their beaks.

The great Kiskadee is a 'passerine' bird (feet adapted for perching) and is a tyrant flycatcher by nature, but while it remains a tyrant and behaves accordingly, it is no longer content with flies. Every morning, Indranie unfailingly puts out bread, fruits, including bananas, and syrup (sugar water) for her birds.

But even before she puts out the vital supplies, they are already gathered, perching on the window frame, on the fence, in the trees or pacing the lawn anxiously. I swear that one of them was looking at the kitchen clock and making disapproving noises. It is a gathering of the clans - blackbirds, blue birds, brown birds and even some yellow birds who don't hold against us that we have no banana trees in the yard.

What is really disheartening is that I moved into the house months before Indranie came from Antigua to join me. When I first moved in, I put out some bananas to feed the many birds I saw scrounging around the neighbourhood. It was not yet mango season, the ground was a bit parched, and I felt that when Indranie arrived, she would feel at home and I could then boast that I, too, had the knack and that the birds and I were all lovey-dovey.

The bananas remained on the ground for days. Not a bird around. I could hear them saying, "Cheep, cheep," so I put some fresh bananas out to show that I was not as much a skinflint as they thought. Still no response. The crows, particularly, perhaps because they are among the brightest of God's creatures, made unpleasant noises when I passed near them and used my car for target practice and to show their disdain. I did not go so far as to say, "The only good bird is a dead bird," but my meals most of the time consisted mainly of chicken. Jerk chicken.

Of course, the birds were here from the moment Indranie arrived. I thought I saw one or two at the airport on the Sunday morning when she came in and there were some perched on the telephone wires like the birds in the Alfred Hitchcock movie, but not as threatening, except when they looked at me. Those who did not give a fig for my bananas were everywhere in and around the house. The bananaquits showed that whoever named them had got it wrong because they never stopped eating or drinking.

There is a scene in the movie 'Home Alone 2', where an old lady is covered almost entirely by pigeons. I can see this happening to Indranie and I believe she would revel in it. It does not matter what kind of bird - parrots, for instance, love her and would hang around her. Me, they attack without mercy. One used to sharpen his beak on the concrete wall and look fiercely at me while doing so. Dogs that bark madly and try to burst their leashes to get at me grovel at her feet and lick her hands.

We're moving soon, but not so far away that the birds would be unable to find us. We started to take some of our stuff across to the new place, and I swear that one of the Blue Jeans perched on the gate there winked at me and then let out a loud, "Steups!"

- Tony Deyal was last seen saying he saw a strange bird stealing food from the crows and giving it to the little bananaquits. It was a Robin Hood.