Thursday, 11 April 2019

Why do birds sing?

It is five o’clock in the morning. The silence of the dark house and garden is broken by the Bulbul’s singing in the orchard. I wonder what prompted such an early morning song. It couldn’t be the striking of the church bell in the village centre. Church bells would be the last sound that would awaken the birds in the garden.

The Cape Bulbul
My internal clock wakes me at around five in the morning. The familiar five strokes of the church bell is a comforting sound in the dark. The early hours of the morning is my thinking time. At Towerwater, it seems that I am not the only one waking up at that time.

The Cape White-eye
Long after the sound of the church bell has faded, the Bulbul fills the orchard with his song. At half past six I can hear the first cock-crow in the distance. Prompting others to try and outdo him in a fugue of crowing.

The Cape Wagtail
As the dawn creeps over the valley, more and more birds add their unique voice to the breaking of the day. It seems to be the happiest time of day in the garden. Songs and sunshine fill the air. Then as each bird flies off to their spot for the day, the garden falls into a silence. One can hear the flutter of wings as the Sunbird hovers around the garden wall pillar heads. Feeding on the insects that have made their nest there.

Two young Laughing Doves in the orchard
Most of the young birds are already well-grown. They can eat on their own, but they will never turn down the chance to be fed by a doting but clearly irritated parent. The young Laughing Doves will laze about the orchard, but as soon as a parent ventures into the area, it becomes a flapping of wings and a begging of beaks. This normally makes the parent leave faster than they arrived.

Feeding time
At midday, the different birds normally have their designated area of the garden where they feed on insects or fallen fruit.

The Fiscal Flycatcher
The birds have become the early warning system in the garden. There is a different warning sound for snakes, cats and predatory birds. The Bulbuls are the first ones to alert us to imminent danger in the world of the birds in the garden. When the warning sounds are contained in one spot, then it is normally the Fiscal Shrike that is raiding a nest. I have witnessed how the different birds add their voice to the distress calls of the Cape Sparrows as the Fiscal Shrike takes their babies.

The Paradise Flycatcher
They look forlorn as they sit high up in the oak tree. Flying in and out of the nest again and again. I wonder if they understand what has happened. I wonder how they feel about their loss. As all the other birds fly away after the inevitable has happened, they are left alone to deal with their loss. 

The male Cape Sparrow repairing their nest with oak leaves
When the shrill warning chatter of the birds moves around in a wider area of a tree, it is normally because of a snake that has been spotted. I watch them trying to distract the snake from heading towards a nest. It becomes a wild cacophony of different bird sounds. Where I stand on the ground it seems unbearable. I wonder what the snake must think.

The Olive Thrush on their nest in the Hibiscus tree
The Olive Thrush
When the warning sounds move from tree to tree over the lawn, it is normally a cat walking along the rose garden path. Clearly the birds have witnessed the cat killing one of their feathered friends. They have decided that the cat is not good news in the garden. I have had to chase many a cat out of a tree when hearing the birds in a frenzied and excited chatter. After chasing the cat out of the garden, everything soon returns to normal.

The Hadeda ibis couple visiting the garden
My mother taught me how to “listen” to nature. To understand what it is trying to tell one. From the activity of the ants; the increase in the numbers of crickets in a season, to the activity of the birds. One can learn a lot from the daily activity of the creatures in your garden. Modern living has distracted us from the lessons to be learnt from nature. Scientifically we all have an innate tendency to seek out nature and other forms of life. One just needs to put down technology and exchange virtual reality for the real thing. One needs to be quiet and listen, because nature has so much to teach us.

The Cape Turtle Dove
We need nature for our physical and psychological wellbeing. Nature teaches us to live in relation to each other, not in domination over the other. When one creates a sanctuary for other creatures, one ends up creating a sanctuary for oneself. A space where harmony reigns is a space of well being for everyone that shares it.

The Cape Robin
When I see a male Sparrow sit in the road next to the corpse of his mate, where she has been struck by a car, I cannot but wonder how he deals with the loss? Does he understand what has happened? If he does mourn the loss, how long does he mourn? There is still a lot I don’t know about the life of birds.

The Laughing Dove where it feels the safest
The birds in our garden make me feel good when I listen to them from where I sit under the oak tree. Even the clumsy landing of the doves in the wild fig tree adds to the sounds of a happy garden. I sometimes wonder if the birds belong to the garden or if the garden belongs to the birds. But then I realise nothing belongs to any of us. We share this space because we want to be there. Finding comfort in the cohabitation of a tranquil space.

The Paradise Flycatcher
If I was a bird in our garden, I would probably also join the day long chorus.