As a twitcher (something very different from a tweeter) I was dismayed to read that one in five British birds is on the brink of extinction. The list of endangered species does allow you to play the Alternative Meanings for Bird Names game. At our breakfast table we had: twite (a posh swearword), temminck’s stint (a famous alleyway in Yorkshire) and balearic shearwater (a disease suffered mainly by DJs). The list also made me think how sad it is that we only celebrate our native birds when they’re about to die out. Maybe if we bigged up the more common birds, we’d take a bit more care of them. Here are some fun facts about the more everyday varieties.
Pigeons: until 2004, the feral pigeon was known as the “rock dove”, which suggests that the pigeon is just a dove that went to art college, learnt to play guitar, started wearing eyeliner, drinking cheap cider and smoking rollies, and that’s why he looks a bit manky.
During the First World War a carrier pigeon called Cher Ami managed to deliver a message that saved the lives of 194 soldiers despite having been shot at by the Germans.
The bird arrived at HQ blinded in one eye, with bullets in his breast and one leg hanging on by a tendon. The man from Tesco’s didn’t deliver my shopping last week because of a bit of snow. I’m just saying.
The pigeon is the only non-mammal that can recognise itself in a mirror. In experiments the birds have been able to differentiate between human faces. So when they poo on you, it IS personal.
If pigeons are the rats of the air, gulls are the pitbulls of the air. Gulls have been found to snack on LIVE whales, tearing off chunks of flesh. They regularly mug people for chips, and one gull got caught shoplifting Doritos from the RS McColl newsagents in Aberdeen.
The gull has a life expectancy of 49 years and they start breeding when they are three. Feel free to insert your own joke about them being like inhabitants of an area of poor socio-economic status. Herring gulls also have prophylactic unhinging jaws. I don’t know exactly why, or even what this means, but The Prophylactic Unhinging Jaws may be the name of the band the rock dove joined shortly before it started taking heroin and moved into a squat. I could go on, but space is limited.
Let’s just celebrate common birds before they go the way of the Whimbrel (a Belgian cravat) and the Fieldfare (a South African supermarket chain).