Friday, September 21, 2012

Bird Tales

I've always liked birds. In childhood, I risked permanently deforming my neck from endless hours just looking at all kinds of birds flying above. In fact, this whole post is about birds.

If anyone remembers Nairobi in the nineties, they know that there would be swarms of tiny birds flitting about amidst the highrises. I don't know if they were swallows or sparrows or whatnot. they flapped their wings from building to building singing their heartfelt birdsongs all day. Maybe they moved out when all the traffic and noise finally drowned out their matchless contribution to the city ambience (besides bird droppings). Or maybe kanjo did something. I miss the little pests.

There were a lot more hawks then in the city's environs than there are today; and they had acquired a taste for refined urban foods. Veteran revellers patronizing Uhuru Park knew: in order to to eat anything in the open, you needed to sit under a tree, or a hawk would swoop and grab it, bread and beef alike.

I loved watching hawks soaring, wing and tail feathers stretched to a wide span (Were they even hawks? They were brown with yellow beaks, is what I remember). They seemed to lie atop a comfortable breeze and relax, changing directions with what looked like a twist of twitch of the shoulders, and only occasionally flapping their wings. I'd be hypnotized by the apparent casualness of it all, unaware that the bird was hunting, not cruising about and showing off. Suddenly, the bird of prey would swoop to earth, talons stretched forth, grab some hapless student's hotdog and climb back to the remote heights - all in a flash. I remained in awe of hawks for a long time. One day some boys with their catapult shot down a hawk, and killed it, which saddened me greatly.

In contrast to the ruthless and elegant precision of hawks, there were crows. Clumsy, noisy, ugly, quarrelsome. They loved hanging out on garbage piles. "Black suits with white waistcoats" is how I pictured their color scheme. I didn't like them much, they struck me as contentious lot prone to peck out your eye. Even the least superstitious person can not but perceive an ill omen from a crow's portentous comportment. Still, they could be hilarious. The occasional crow would battle against a strong breeze by "flying on the spot": It flaps its wings energetically but doesn't move an inch forward nor backward, just struggling right there in mid air with strong exertions. Anyone who's seen it would laugh.

But I find in chickens the practical reason why "birdbrain" is a particularly demoralizing insult, and why "chickenhearted" is not a term of endearment. Chickens are just... special.

Nowadays all I see in the city are marabou storks and other scavenger-leaning types.

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