The Birds

There are seagulls and crows having a shouting match just outside the shed today. We live quite close to Belfast Lough so the gulls are probably flying by the houses to say hello, before they go back to stealing peoples’ chips along the shore. I don’t know what the birds are saying to each other. Are these  alarm calls? Greetings? 

As I was making plans to learn more about birdsong I happened upon a news item that made me smile. A Dutch biologist, Auke-Florian Hiemstra, was recuperating in a Belgian hospital when he noticed an unusual nest clinging to a tree outside his window. Sure enough, it was covered in sharp objects. It seems that magpies all over Europe have been dismantling bird spikes from buildings to use them in their nests. Us humans think we’re so clever. Must keep our buildings (and heads) free from dirt, so we just need to glue a deterrent onto gutters and sills. That will sort the problem. Job done. It makes me laugh to picture men attaching fearsome-looking spikes as the magpie family watch, tilting their heads (and raising eyebrows if they had them) to plan their next move.

Photo by Auke-Florian Hiemstra, The Atlantic

Corvids are famously clever – crows have also been found to remove deterrents. Maybe pigeons are getting there too? Years ago, we were trying to keep pigeons away from our van roof and placed a plastic owl nearby (it’s supposed to scare other birds away). Needless to say I looked out the window later that day to see a pigeon sitting calmly next to the owl, with a rather supercilious look on its face. It almost shook its weary head. Humans.

The smart magpie in her safe nest made me think. These clever birds have learned how to take something negative and turned it into something positive. Unpleasant spikes become beautiful nests. An attempt to keep them away, or even hurt them, has been reclaimed for their own purposes. It’s simple but brilliant. Their ability to use imagination and creativity is quite simply inspiring. 

In fact, it’s art. This is what art can do. Where would we be without it?