Wed | Aug 16, 2017

Tony Deyal | One of the birds

Published:Saturday | June 3, 2017 | 6:00 AM

'Birdsong' is the name of a popular novel by British author Sebastian Faulkes about World War I and the radio, film, and television adaptations of the book. In Trinidad, it is the name of a popular steel band, an academy, and a social enterprise facility helping to generate work for its members.

In my house, though, it is the noise that intentionally seeks to wake us up from about four in the morning, every morning, Monday to Sunday. Birds don't care if Good Friday falls on a Sunday, and they don't rest on weekends or fly to Tobago for a well-deserved vacation for us. They knock on the window, dance on the roof, peer through the glass, or, if my wife Indranie is in the kitchen, sit on the wall outside and stare so intently at her that she starts to feel guilty, grabs up large quantities of birdseed, bananas, and bread softened in water for them and then adds some sugar-water for the others like the hummingbirds and bannaquits.

I strongly suspect that the majority of them understand English and can translate for the others like the Keskidees. As my wife and I speak to each other in the so-called sanctity of our bedroom, I hear the Keskidees asking the other birds, "Qu'est-ce-qu'il-dit? Qu'est-ce-qu'il-dit?" (What is he saying? What is he saying?) and their chirpy responses, "Nothing much. Nothing much. She is the one to listen to."

 

DIFFERENT TREATMENT

 

I am sure that they know that I grumble and complain about the rising cost of birdseed, bananas, and sugar, as well as the shrinking size of the salt or hops bread because when I go outside under the eaves for my very rare visits, they do not greet me with the shrills of delight they lavish on my wife but look at me coldly and say to one another, "Cheap. Cheap." If they hear my voice in the kitchen, there is a whoosh of wings as they depart, wishing that I was outside in the open so that they could let me have it.

Don't believe for one moment that I am exaggerating. Four months ago, in February 2017, The Telegraph ran a story headlined "Ruffled feathers: angry Britons' battle with dive-bombing seagulls moves inland" and asked, "What's the answer? Fight or flight?" The story goes: "The seaside and cities of Britain are under siege by wild and ferocious predators. Birds are wreaking havoc on innocent members of the public with indiscriminate attacks. Some fearful citizens have even reportedly taken to carrying firearms for protection - from gulls. For the seagulls' list of victims seems to grow all the time. Tourists daring to eat ice cream in daylight, fans of fish and chip takeaways, festivalgoers, schoolchildren, cyclists, tortoises, Chihuahuas, supermarket customer are all seen as fair game from the skies."

The Telegraph also featured the exploits of 30 peacocks and peahens in the rural British village of Ushaw Moor, where they are on the rampage, causing mayhem with all-night noise, scratching the paintwork on cars with their claws and beaks when they see their reflections, and fouling the streets as they roam wild.

Birds have a kind of mafia mentality, and I am sure that if I decided to go to Britain, they would be ready for me. They really run a global criminal empire. In October last year, police in India detained a pigeon that was carrying a note containing a threat to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Another pigeon, this one from Kuwait, was caught with a backpack full of drugs - 175 pills containing ketamine, an illegal party drug. One of my friends said, "I am sure the pigeons are trying to sell drugs to buy guns to carry out their assassination plan."

To show how widespread is their criminal empire and their ability to plan over the long term, in 2015, prison guards in Costa Rica caught a pigeon carrying cocaine and cannabis in a zipped pouch, and in 2011, Colombian police discovered a pigeon that was unable to fly over a high prison wall because of the weight of a package of cocaine and marijuana strapped to it. They were probably tipped off by a stool pigeon.

 

JAPANESE TITS

 

Yes, indeed. A study of Japanese tits (please note this is a type of bird) has shown that they can 'speak in phrases', an ability previously thought to be the unique preserve of humans. Although this capacity has been demonstrated in a wide range of species, including chickens, Japanese tits have different calls for 'crow' and 'snake'. A study has also shown that birds and humans 'talk' to each other as they hunt bees' nests together in the forests of Mozambique.

In a story featured in The Telegraph, the Yao people use a special call to attract the honeybirds - a loud trill followed by a short grunt. The birds also give a call to attract people's attention and then fly from tree to tree to direct them to the bees' nest. While humans are after the honey, the birds feed on the wax, so there is no direct competition. If there was competition, the birds would get help from the pigeons and gulls and make short shrift of the Yao.

To demonstrate how united the birds are against the common enemy, last year, millions of starlings binging on olives forced authorities in Rome to close off roads caked in droppings washed off trees into the street by heavy rains, making pavements and streets dangerously slippery. The hazardous mixture of the droppings and rotting caused car and motorbike accidents, so the authorities tried to scare the birds away using recordings of the screeching sound starlings produce when they spot a bird of prey. They attempted to use hawks, supposedly natural predators, to attack the starlings but found little success and disbanded the hawks, which, reportedly, return to Atlanta in time for the basketball play-offs.

- Tony Deyal was last seen saying that the Roman authorities should have known that they had the wrong Hawks when they saw the birds on their knees in the Vatican. They were not birds of prey but birds of pray.