Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The birds, the birds

I have often written about birds as omens, but if you went back over the postings it would soon become obvious that they were all about birds as omens of something good. That's not because I don't like dwelling on the bad. Rather it's because I wouldn't know a bad bird omen if it flew up & bit me on the arse.

Sure, it's not hard to find examples. Just read H.P. Lovecraft or watch one of several Hitchcock movies. The Romans were big on birds. Their haruspices could interpret what was meant by birds appearing at a particular time, or the size of the flock, or the direction they were travelling in or the type or any combination of those things. There is a jagged gap in a range of hills near Lake Taupo in New Zealand that is known as the place where the taniwha (a kind of dragon) went through; & the local Maori believe that if a bird is seen flying in that gap then it presages the sighter's death. & I know of at least one self-willed death because of such a sighting.

To me, a flock of sulfur-crested cockatoos going bananas outside my window at 5.30 in the morning is not omenic but an unwanted alarm clock. & there are so many birds around that most of the time they're just part of, & often an unnoticed part, of the landscape.

This morning, as I was hanging out the washing, there was a thunk from the window five or so metres above my head, & a bird suddenly dropped at my feet. Birds flying into the windows are nothing new, but usually they're the stupid ones like the magpie larks that see their own reflection & immediately fly to attack the intruder. This was a kingfisher, a beautiful bird, usually solitary, patient but skittish at noise. Not for nothing are one variety known as the sacred kingfisher. They've been a favourite of mine for around sixty years.

It lay there, neck bent at what seemed to me an unnatural angle. I freaked. To use a totally inappropriate cliché, it was as if the chickens had finally come home to roost. Here am I, self-professed proclaimer that birds are omens, & one of the special ones, the beautiful ones that you are always pleased to see, is lying dead at my feet. Sweet Jesus, what can I expect around the corner!

I gathered it up in a dustpan, ready to get rid of it in the garbage. But I couldn't bring myself to dispose of it. There was still a faint thread of breath — perceived death gasps — so I moved it out into the open, some sort of faint wish that it might revive, but more to give myself time to steel myself to perform the act of merciful expedition. With that neck looking like it was, there seemed to be no hope.

I kept on hanging out the washing, almost blubbering by now, thinking dark thoughts, keeping an eye on a pair of butcher birds that had suddenly decided to take up a vantage point in the tree above where the kingfisher lay, laid out on its plastic bier. Butcher birds have a beautiful melodic song, but they get their name from their habit of hanging their food — lizards, large insects — up on twigs.

Thus the next few minutes went. Me desolate, whether over the bird's death or my impending doom. Slow motion. The birds on the tree, the bird on the ground, me mundanely keeping on hanging out the washing. Blubbering, nothing almost about it. Then the kingfisher raised its head & a couple of minutes or so later stood up. & stayed standing there for a full ten minutes, immobile, until I wandered over towards it & it took off up into a tree, to remain there for another ten minutes. Then off somewhere.

Who knows what kingfishers think when their consciousness disappears. Are they even conscious of it, that passage of black time. Do they think it an alien abduction, perhaps, maybe coming back with an anal probe or a microchip up a nasal passage. Or do they think they'll have to stay away from those black beetles, that they do terrible things to their systems. Or window, what window? Do they start checking their body parts, & are relieved to find the / "syndactylism of the 3rd & 4th digit" still remains.

Anyway, I was relieved, stopped blubbering, enjoyed the resurrection. Sat down to watch a koel come & land in a chilli bush not much bigger than itself, delicately balance on & bounce amongst the branches & pick the chillies, one by one. Things back to normal.

Except there were three ibises blocking the driveway when I came home in the afternoon, refusing to let me pass. What should I make of that?


Blogger steve said...

love bird stories... we have alot of crows here and they are very smart but clumsy. i was writing and looking out the window one day and saw a crow on it's back in the street. i went out and it was breathing... i didn't know what to do, they are big. i went back in and called the bird rescue place... they said to put the crow in a box and bring it on down... i went to the garage got a box and went back out... the crow was gone... i called the bird rescue place back and told them what happened and they said crows sometimes just run into things and knock themselves out.

kind of like people...

cheers, harry

2:59 AM  
Blogger Ocean and Forest Walks said...

Really enjoy your writing and your stories are great -I have put many a dead bird in a warm box and left them for a while - some go and sit on a branch and act stunned for twenty minutes and then fly away!! Looking for meaning in this - hey don't put the bird in the garbage right away!!! Cheers - Funny blog.

9:43 AM  
Blogger Martin Edmond said...

once picked up a stunned tawny frogmouth off the road. was holding it tenderly to me when it turned suddenly & took an enormous bite at my breastbone ... onga-onga-onga-onga-onga-onga ...

2:13 PM  
Blogger Jackal32 said...

Hello Mark Young, I'm interested in your opinion. Yesterday ( Saturday 8th of September ) morning I woke up and had coffee in my lounge room after about 15 minutes I noticed a wild light grey pigeon sitting on my lounge sleeping. My house was locked up over night, the only possible way the pigeon could enter the house was through the chimney.
I see the pigeon as an omen as what are the odds to wake up and find a pigeon sitting on the lounge in a secured house?
I was so amazed, I woke my 13 year old daughter, after which I gently caught the bird and walked outside and released him.
Now after a little searching online I found that in Mecca blue pigeons are not killed because of their likeness to a dove that came down when Jesus was baptised. Just for the record I am not religious, but found the association between blue pigeons and the dove interesting. And from what I understand doves mean love peace and happiness. The fact Pigeons have been used fo centuries to deliver messages is also interesting. So I think I will buy a lottery ticket.
I was just wondering what your opinion might be.

11:21 AM  

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