WHEN I wake up in the mornings I listen to the birds making a huge amount of noise. As this is usually quite early I try to tell myself to turn over and go back to sleep, as there is little I can do to amuse myself at that time of day. It’s also when all the neighbourhood dogs go on the rampage, trying to chase away the builders who are as busy as they can be. So best to stay away from that.
I try to lock it all away from my mind and chant a little song — you know, the one that goes something like ‘‘ some say the birds are on the wing but that’s absurd; the wings are on the bird’’. Or boid, as my father would have said, being Irish.
I am sometimes quite puzzled about the behaviour of birds in our neck of the woods. In the front garden they shriek shrilly; on the harbour side they tweet tweet tweet quite gently. I therefore thought it was about time to find out more about birds.
I do know that birds of a feather flock together but not a lot more, so I flung myself down to the nearest bookshop and bought a hefty hardcover book titled A History of Birds. Or, as it says in big type on the cover, Histoire
des Oiseaux, as it is by Frenchman Francois Nicolas Martinet, who did the most beautiful illustrations. It also features text in French, German and Spanish, which is fun, and English, which is even better as I don’t speak any of the other three languages.
Some friends of ours are soon visiting South America, so they will no doubt come across the multicoloured American pelican, which may
I ONCE HAD LUNCH WITH A BIRD, OF THE FEATHERED KIND, AND IT WAS ONE OF THE MOST UNUSUAL DINING EXPERIENCES OF MY LIFE
be my favourite bird at the moment. There are, apparently, loads of them along the Pacific and Atlantic coastlines and they tend to hang around fishing ports where they have a good chance of getting an easy feed. Otherwise they catch fish by diving from the air, which would be more work.
On my recent travels I was really looking forward to meeting the woodpigeon of Madagascar. They are also very common, which makes them easier to find but perhaps less of a coup to see, which makes it all the more vexing that I failed to spot one.
Histoire des Oiseaux has been a revelation and I feel quite chuffed with myself for gathering so much knowledge. And amusement. The picture of the crested hen, for instance, made me just about cry with mirth.
This one looks very pleased with itself, having just laid an egg. Apparently these hens have a most inquiring mind, which gives them a good start in life. All this is leading to the fact that I once had lunch with a bird, of the feathered kind, and it was one of the most unusual dining experiences of my life, which is saying something.
A friend emailed me and asked whether I was busy, and if not, he and two friends were dining together and would I like to accept an invitation. Naturally I said I would be most pleased to join them and the emailer said, ‘‘ well, so-and-so is bringing a bird’’.
I rolled my eyes, immediately thinking the obvious and not much wanting to see people of a certain age flirting. But it was a real bird, happily settled on the man’s shoulder.
Normally such a pair wouldn’t find a terribly warm welcome at a decent restaurant, which this was. But it was a Monday and not a huge day for business. So the proprietor did what anyone with any nous would: he ushered our party in and closed the door, putting out a notice that said something to the effect that the restaurant was very full and it was pointless for anyone to hang about hoping to get a table.
Inside, our small group had quite a time. The bird was a macaw with beautiful and striking feathers, which it liked to show off. Waiters kept giving it nuts and raisins, and it went around the restaurant on their shoulders which was fine by them as they didn’t have any other customers to look after.
I felt as if I were in some weird dream and that at any moment the bird would be butchered for our lunch. It didn’t happen of course. We had chicken instead and it tasted pretty good.