Last year, I met an old guy called John in Hargeisa. John had just come from the bush with a camera, a sketch pad, pens, pencils and notebooks. He also had a big illustrated book that talked about the birds of the Horn of Africa. John was a bird watcher and was updating a book about the birds found in Somalia. He informed me that he goes to the bush for months at a time to study birds. He had sketches of various birds which he could easily distinguish from colors, shapes and sizes of their different parts. He was quite excited to show and tell me about a new discovery of a rare bird he had spotted while in the bush. He told me that once you learn to use your senses in the bush, bird watching can be as interesting as watching racing horses. Not being a bird watcher or horse enthusiast either, I just took his word for it. When I came back to Nairobi, I moved into my current house and set up my work area next to a window facing a huge tree. From where I sat, I could observe the activities on the tree which comprised mainly of a group of weaver birds building their nests. As time went by, I realized that I spent my breaks from work observing the birds. True to John’s words, it becomes quite interesting even when I just applied two of my sense organs – eyes and ears.
Have you ever observed a bird’s feather minutely? It’s amazing to see how the colors change with the angle of vision, or how the grays and white, the blues and greens, blend into each other with magnificent artistry. It’s almost surprising to learn that contrary to what one might imagine, a single feather is structured more like a leaf than like a broom.
Many birds usually pair up as couples and take turns, with one attending to the eggs or the chicks while the other is on the lookout. Whenever the lookout bird senses danger, it gives warning screeches in order to alert its mate. They are always on the look out for cats, snakes, larger birds and other predators. If you ever walk near a bush and a bird starts to hop around excitedly while making unusually loud and discordant noises, it most likely has a nest with eggs or babies nearby and is alerting its mate of impending danger.
When a bird’s chick hatches, it is blind and its skin is almost transparent – you can see its organs through the thin skin of its distended belly! It looks like one of the characters from ‘Sesame Street’ or perhaps ‘Muppet Show’?
It is difficult to imagine that in a few weeks time, it will be able to fly and look like its parents.
The parent bird usually looks for food and carries it back to the nest where it drops tiny morsels into the eager open mouth of the hungry chick. The chick will continue to rely on its parent to feed it even after it can fly. You can always tell that the chick is still begging for attention from its parent by noting its behavior: the chick ruffles its feathers and makes shivering motions as it chirps in a high continuous pitch.
A while ago, I watched an interesting confrontation between a weaver bird and a group of tiny birds. Each time that the weaver bird would go for materials while constructing its nest, the tiny birds would move inside the incomplete nest. When the weaver bird returned, it would chase them away and they would fly to watch it from a distance. When the weaver bird went for more materials, the tiny birds would again move into the nest. This went on for a few days and I suppose the weaver bird got tired of the drama and went to build another nest. With the weaver bird out of the way, the tiny birds started rebuilding the nest. One of the most notable additions was a second entrance. So now the nest has two doors.
The tiny birds usually operate as a flock. They often whirr off together after sunrise and return several times during the day to perform some activities inside the nest. I suspect they have eggs or chicks inside there. Each time they come back to the nest, several of them go inside while another group hangs around scouting for danger.
I recently bought a pair of binoculars and am now able to spy on the birds more intimately. The first thing that I observed is that when they are not flying, or singing, or cuddling, birds just sit on the tree and groom themselves.
One more bird I can tell you about is the ‘snoring bird’. I call it by this name because it sings continuously through out the night. I figured out that its night song might actually be its snore, and hence the name. I suppose John would know the name and might even have a photo of the ‘snoring bird.’