Christmas is for the Birds

Day begins in darkness with the outlandish hooping of a bird I can't identify, perhaps a channel-billed cuckoo, aka the Orgasm Bird; later its kawk ... awk-awk-awk echoes past the steeple where a sombre bell is tolling. It's the largest parasitic bird in the world and comes down here every spring from New Guinea to lay its eggs in the nests of magpies or currawongs or crows, whose young it will exponentially outgrow. The red-whiskered bulbuls are nesting, taking dried bits of a dead frond of the palm beside the balcony back around the side of the building somewhere. With their black upstanding crests, red dot under each eye, orange rump, they are innately cheerful, even humorous; their cry always sounds to me like: See three pee-oh, see three pee-oh, as if they were aficionados of Star Wars. They're an Asian bird, introduced around the turn of last century. For the Turks the bulbul is an exemplar of a poet but perhaps that's a different bird - the word, from the Persian, seems to mean nightingale. As I drink my morning coffee I watch a willy wagtail, beating its wings, almost stationary, plucking some quite large insect from in amongst the leaves of the gum tree out the front; while three ibis cross the western sky heading inscrutably south. They always look prehistoric to me, like pterodactyls, and they are indeed an ancient bird. And then I recall hearing on the radio the other day about a facility some kind of corvine bird in North America has for lying: to distract other birds from their favourite food they will give forth their characteristic predator warning cry, scattering their rivals and allowing them to feed undisturbed. There are Indian minas patrolling the orange tiles of the roof of the building next door, with their military strut and insouciant eye for the main chance, whatever it may be. I remember an iridescence of lorikeets yesterday amongst the green leaves of the eucalypt next door, and the shy and beautiful spotted doves that graze the carpark out the back when everyone has gone to work. Also the pair of black-faced cuckoo shrikes, slender and elegant, that perch sometimes on the wires, their blue-grey plumage the colour of an overcast sky, threatening rain. These grey days make all the colours shine; and it's strange to think that our festivals have no meaning for the birds except this: it's so quiet today, the streets deserted, the air and atmos peaceful for once after the clamour and hysteria of the last week, that perhaps it represents an opportunity to make this world more theirs than it usually is, to make themselves more at home. Although it's hard to imagine how more at home they could be, since even the migratory among them are always at home; so maybe what I mean is they have no other home than this and in that way resemble us all, indiscriminately, the homed, the homing, the homesick, the home away from home and the homeless.

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