Thoughts on Birds as Our Natural Enemies
This essay will not be popular with animal lovers in general, and PETA members in particular, but I have never been all that fond of birds. I will tell you why:
It all began back in my home town of Fitchburg, Massachusetts, a paper mill town, in the 1940’s. We lived near one of the mills, and the place was lousy with pigeons. I still don’t know why. Maybe they ate some of the excess paper coating, or something, but anyway they were there: hundreds of them. Our neighbor, Francis, raised homing pigeons, and the food and the water attracted the mill pigeons like a giant bird magnet. They were all over our yards. They were loud and dirty. Francis and my father called them “flying rats,” and thought up a variety of methods to keep them away. None of which really worked that well, and I would wake up each morning to see the “things”, perched on the roof outside my window, staring in at me. It was unnerving.
My second encounter with evil birds came at the swan pond in CoggshallPark, near our home, when I was about 6. There was a bevy of swans that glided majestically across the pond and then rested in a shady nook near where I sailed my boat. I decided to scare them away. I put on my early war face, screamed fierce screams, and ran towards them, waving my arms like a mad boy. I immediately noticed three things:
1. The swans were not running away.
2. The swans weren’t intimidated at all.
3. The swans were counter attacking.
Those beautiful and graceful birds were as tall and as heavy as I was, with huge wing spans, and a loud scream. When I realized what was happening, I came to a comic book, screeching halt, turned tail, and ran. The birds pursued me, yelling fierce battle cries of their own, flapping their large wings, and nipping at my heels. I only escaped because I ran through the brush where they could not easily follow.
When I got home, I told my live-in, Irish, philosopher, seanachi, grandmother, Nana Ware, what had happened. “Ah boy,” she said, hugging me, “don’t start fights that ye can’t finish.” She then told me about the roc, a giant bird of Persian mythology whom, it was said, could carry away an elephant. That helped.
My third confrontation was with pink flamingos. I was in Florida, running a sales meeting, and the hotel had a magnificent garden filled with beautiful plants and flowers and…pink flamingos. Not the plastic kind, the real kind. A group of our sales people, probably under the influence of Demon Rum, thought it would be hilarious to capture a few of these birds and to release them in the sales vice president’s suite. They did so. Later that night, my boss returned to find his suite a shambles, and he himself under attack. It seems that pink flamingos, when nervous, first become grievously incontinent, and then attack anything or anybody in sight. My boss called me for help. Remembering my boyhood swan incident, I didn’t attempt to scare these birds away. I called the groundskeepers and they came and rounded them up, giving us a stern lecture, a suggestion of legal action if it happened again, and a rather large clean-up bill.
My fourth bird trauma was in Hawaii, with peacocks. Wife Judy and I had a second floor balcony room over looking another magnificent garden wherein strutting peacocks lived. I had only seen them strutting and preening on NBC commercials. I never realized they were such noisy birds. They screamed all day, and all night too. One early evening, I could take it no more. I went out on the balcony, and screamed back at them. They went silent. Vindicated, I turned back into my room only to hear a new screech behind me; there was a peacock on my balcony. I never knew they could fly. I thought they were like ostriches and emus and could run like the wind; but peacocks can do that and fly too. And this guy was furious. I slammed the screen door shut, but he smashed into it, trying to tear it apart with his talons. I closed the glass door and called Security. Once again, the bird people came and carted the offending bird away. They told me that an attack like this was most unusual. I didn’t mention that I may have initiated the encounter by saying something uncomplimentary about the peacock’s lineage.
My fifth trauma was with pigeons again, this time in London. I walked through Trafalgar Square at lunchtime, munching on a sandwich. I was set upon by a flock of the most aggressive pigeons I have ever seen. They were fearless. They swarmed all over me, and my food, until I just dropped it and beat a hasty retreat. A police constable watched all this in bemusement. “Don’t you know that Trafalgar Square is famous for its pigeons?” he asked. “People come here each day by the thousands just to see and feed the pigeons.”
I wanted to ask why they just didn’t go to the dump to see and feed the rats too. I didn’t bother. I had already toured the Tower of London and it was not pleasant.
And so it goes unto this very day. I have a crazy woodpecker trying to drill a hole through my roof; crows that wake me at dawn with their loud and unnerving “caws,”; seagulls that redecorate my house, car, and sidewalks as they fly over; and several Canada Goose that desperately need to be deported.
On the bright side, I like song birds (in moderation: no encores), but the rest of them I can do without. They have scarred me emotionally. As part of a fraternity initiation back in the 1950’s, we had to sit alone in the dark, listening to Basil Rathbone recite Poe’s “The Raven.” Our class officers told us that after the 6th reading, most people go mad. That didn’t happen, but it was too close for comfort.
And – then there’s the “Ancient Mariner,” and his accursed albatross that they hung around his neck; and I’ll never forgive those black starlings for what they did to Tippi Heyden in Alfred Hitchcock’s, “The Birds.”
Birds: Don’t go away mad; just go away.