Dennie Quill, Columnist
I was simply devastated to find a couple of dead birds in my yard the morning after killer Hurricane Sandy had ripped through the island. I don't know whether they had fallen from a tree or were hit by flying debris and fell to their demise.
Frankly, although I had been accustomed to hearing their chirpy sounds every day, I never really gave a thought about what would happen to them during a period of fierce wind and driving rain. After all, we are mostly focused on ourselves and our loved ones during times of crisis. Who gives a thought about how birds and other wildlife will survive the ravages of wind, rain and rising waters?
As of yet, I have not seen any numbers to indicate how many birds may have died in the storm. However, there are many historical notes to confirm that from time to time species of birds have been pushed to the edge of extinction by powerful hurricanes. For example, the Puerto Rican wild parrot was almost wiped out by Hurricane Hugo in 1989.
Birds are said to be extremely sensitive to changes in air pressure and know instinctively that a storm is approaching and usually go off to seek shelter. When Hurricane Gilbert lashed Jamaica in 1988, all the familiar birds had disappeared from their usual perches. Curiously, this time they remained put.
I can't help but wonder whether they were displaying the typical Jamaican behaviour of failing to plan ahead of time, or, worse, were like the fishermen on Pedro Cays ignoring the warning to get out of the path of the storm. Apparently, these 'yardie' birds were taking a chance on Sandy going somewhere else and, therefore, decided to ride it out on a wing and prayer.
We are, by now, very familiar with the consequences of not preparing for disasters such as hurricanes. By Thursday morning, the attractive sounds of the birds had been replaced by incessant bellowing because Sandy had disturbed their habitat. The sweet chirpy sounds from the extensive repertoire of stout-bodied doves, sparrows and hummingbirds were replaced by haunting, sad wailing from early morning way into the night.
It could be that the trees in which they were resting had been uprooted, or that their nests had been blown away by the fierce winds that pummelled the hilly regions of the country. These could also be mating calls, although I doubt that procreation would be a priority during this time of dislocation.
Last, I wondered whether my feathered friends were hungry. After all, many of the berries and fruits which form a major part of their diet would have been beaten into the ground by the savage winds, and it would be difficult for them to forage for food in the aftermath of the storm.
I am no ornithologist, but for whatever reason the birds' pleasant sounds were replaced by haunting, restless cries way into the night.
Funny how a deadly storm can open our eyes to the simple things in our everyday lives. Many people may say, why even think of birds when people are homeless and have lost everything? However, with nearly 300 species of birds and an array of wildlife, Jamaica needs to preserve these life forms so that many generations will be able to enjoy them as much as we have done in our lifetime.
Best of all, they bring out a soft side to the toughest among us.
Dennie Quill is a veteran journalist. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.