Birds Around The House.
We all have guardian angels, of that I’m convinced with all the incredibly silly things I’ve done over the years. Someone must have been watching over me or I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this. But my question is, do animals have guardian angels? Or more specifically, birds?
The reason I pose this conundrum started with my garden birds and their continual quest for procreation; then the curious behavior in recent weeks between of one of the many sparrows here and a pair of nesting zebra doves.
No part of my small garden is immune to the breeding habits of the local bird population. I shake out the kitchen mats and am greeted by the irritated calls of the bulbuls nesting in the little Lady palm next to the back door. I empty the trash can and am bombarded by the zebra doves nesting in the palm overhanging the bin. I look up as I hang the laundry out to dry and am greeted by the tilted heads, gimlet eyes and mischievous faces of the numerous resident mynah birds nesting in our roof space. (Their raucous calls I’m sure are telling all their relatives I’m out of the house so they can safely nip inside and thieve the fruit or dog food). I throw the bedding over the upstairs verandah railing and am confronted by the indignant call of the little sunbird protecting her eggs in the gossamer nest hanging from the bougainvillea just 6 foot from our bed! And I mustn’t forget the ubiquitous pigeon, they who insist on nesting in the most idiotic places in the dry season thus filling the gutters with their nesting 'rubbish' (have you seen a pigeons nest?!) and blocking everything when it rains. They who poo all over the upstairs verandahs when they’re quietly sitting on the window ledges having a gossip each day. They who must ‘go’! In a country that’s decimated their native bird population for food, I cannot understand why there are so many of these awful pigeons. The one thing we eat and enjoy in the West is pigeon, be it in a pie, casserole or something more French and exotic, we eat it. There’s a lot of protein in a pigeon but the Thai’s seem to ignore the wretched beast and let it thrive often to the detriment of their crops. Everyone Thai person I ask has no idea why, they just shrug their shoulders and trot out the usual “mai khao jai” (don’t know).
The garden is full of birds too. Further out into the garden there are nests of various other local birds in up to 35% of the trees. It’s a happy paradise for all of us. We try to keep the local farm cats out of the garden, or rather, our ancient Labradors do. They love nothing better than to ‘exercise’ the mangy moggies, usually first thing in the morning when we take our first tranquil turn of the day round the garden. Tranquil? Well it was until we hear Pippa snorting and flying at speed between the trees and catch a fleeting glimpse of white fur as the cat makes its escape across the back wall!
Cats are not my favourite animal as you can see. They are the biggest killers of birds on the planet (here I quote Bill Oddy on the BBC’s Spring Watch programme circa 2005) and yet people insist on keeping these dangerous killers and allowing them to breed at will. They aren’t even affectionate! They give nothing back for all the love and attention lavished on them by their ‘slaves’ and they only make a fuss of you when and if it suits them or when they want something from you like food! Give me a canine any day as a pet; undying love, affection and devotion. Their sole purpose in life is to please you and they will work alongside you til they drop, no matter the weather or conditions. There’s no sulking if your later back than you said, just a wonderful heartfelt and warm greeting that you did come back. What a mate! What a friend!
Silly Old Birds. They need looking after.......
But back to the garden and all the avian friends to be found there. The occurrence I’m about to relate has only happened in the past few weeks and to our knowledge we’ve not witnessed it before in the three years we’ve lived here.
Our breakfast is always a leisurely affair taken on our front verandah overlooking the garden. We tend to do several jobs from 6 am when we get up, to breakfast time around 9. Walking the dogs, watering the garden, laundry etc. etc – you get the drift - all the mundane but essential things of the day.
But about 3 weeks ago, we were pruning our mini 'jungle' and my husband called me over to watch a little zebra dove precariously perched atop a twiggy nest on a non-to-safe, browning palm branch. These birds are a bit retarded in many respects, they can’t seem to see that the palm branches actually fall off once they start going brown! No ABC (Antecedents, Behavior and Consequences) psychology for these little fellas and definitely no collective avian memory it seems. So the nest duly came down with the branch a few days later, and the eggs perished of course.
The next thing we espy is the little dove, nothing daunted, making a new nest. This time though it was on the third branch up of a palm tree. This one at least had the chance of still being there by the time the eggs hatched. And it was right above the verandah so we could see her every move as she and her ‘husband’ diligently and tirelessly made their next nest, canoodled, laid the eggs and sat. I wish I could say it was a work of art like the lovely nests of the local sunbirds, but it wasn’t. It was just an untidy collection of twigs perched on a downward pointing palm branch. Only the roof tiles stopped it from sliding off.
Now the curious part of this story was the action of one little male sparrow. He sat on the opposite branch just above the nest (branch 4 this one) and just watched. He didn’t sing or flap his wings or move; he just watched intently. This was all the time we were having breakfast, some 45 minutes or so. Did he stay all day? I don't know but my husband said he'd seen him there each time he'd been past. This continued every day, with the eggs being laid, the chicks hatching and the continual feeding of the chicks by the parents. Until the day the two fledglings found their wings and took off with their parents last Friday. And all this time, the little sparrow was there (or at least every breakfast time and whenever we remembered to look).
Now, logically you may ask, was it the same bird? We have around 10 to 15 sparrows at any one time in the garden so couldn’t be sure of course. They also nest in close proximity to where the dove had nested, just in the roof space above the verandah, so was he really protecting his own nest space? The really curious thing about this behavior was the sheer intensity of this little bird. It was really intriguing. He watched the dove without moving. It’s not the normal behavior of any bird to be still for long during the day, especially in the tropical heat of Thailand; they need to feed; they need to be continually alert for predators; their energy is enormous, they are always busy. And birds do not interact between species apart from the danger alert voices they produce to warn of imminent danger – and this can alert anyone, humans included. Our mynah birds are wonderful snake alarms and make the most strident alarm calls if one is around their garden.
So, was this little creature watching over the doves to keep them from harm? Was he real or was he really their Guardian Angel we wondered? Who knows? Nature really can present us with some remarkably strange things at times, and we know so little about the ‘realms beyond’ it would be difficult to hazard a guess. It happened and we were lucky to witness it day by day.
Life is fascinating in all its aspects and long may it continue, we really don’t want to unravel all of its breathtaking mysteries and leave nothing to be discovered. Mysteries and Discoveries are the very essence of life. Without them, life would indeed by poorer.