Wednesday, January 09, 2008


click photo to enlarge
"Birdbrain n. colloq. a stupid or flighty person" (Concise Oxford Dictionary).

Anyone with a passing interest or proximity to birds can't help but notice the seeming dim-wittedness of our avian friends. I feed the birds each morning, putting some food on a bird table, and the remainder at various locations around my house. The bird table used to be the domain of a group of about 30 house sparrows that frequent a hedge near my kitchen window. However, for the past few weeks a particularly belligerent female blackbird has taken command of this feeding station, and spends her time hastily swallowing food between attempts to deny any to the sparrows. And she's successful. But, she must use as much or more energy in her displays of aggression as she gets from the food! Furthermore, 30 sparrows acting together should easily be able to dislodge a single blackbird. But they waste their time and energy taking turns to hover around the bird table, out of range of the blackbird's beak, in futile attempts to get the food. Birdbrained indeed.

However, in my experience few of our feathered friends can demonstrate feeble-mindedness as well as the guinea-fowl. A memory of my early teenage years is being sent into the woods by my uncle to find their nests. They were spread over a wide area, were never near their enclosure, with many simply abandoned, forgotten by their owners. My friends' guinea-fowl are equally imbecilic, and can spend literally hours walking back and forth alongside a fence searching for a way through, with no thought that they can simply flap their wings and fly over it.

Today's photograph is a feather from one of those guinea-fowl. What a beautiful object this small thing is, and how much more is revealed by the close inspection that a macro lens allows. I shot the feather (not the guinea-fowl!) in strong, natural side-light, on a dark background of textured plastic to restrict the colour range and accentuate the patterns. Birdbrained though they are, it is easy to forgive birds their mindlessness for the great beauty of their form and song, and for the pleasure that their company brings to our lives.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 35mm macro (70mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f18
Shutter Speed: 1/2
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -0.7EV
Image Stabilisation: Off