Wednesday, April 07, 2010

A bird pain?

click photo to enlarge
Which bird is the most disliked in Britain? I was pondering this thought the other day when watching a couple of amorous robins flitting around the hedge near my kitchen window. Books, TV programmes, websites, magazines and newspapers often feature articles on "Britain's Favourite Bird" - yes, it's usually the robin (Erithacus rubecula) - but few tackle the other end of the avian adulation spectrum.

I've heard many people express a dislike for starlings (Sturnus vulgaris), particularly those who feed birds in their garden. Such folk see the way they descend on the food mob-handed, briskly marching about, elbowing house sparrows and dunnocks aside, hoovering up the crumbs like demented Dysons, as unappealing. I suppose I can understand why they might think that, but it's not a view I share. Anyway, one has only to look at the breeding plumage of the starling - a star-speckled iridescent night sky - to forgive its table manners. Others save their expletives for the magpie (Pica pica), or "thieving magpie" as they usually refer to it. Its true they do purloin trinkets, and they definitely plunder nests for eggs and nestlings. But it is done with a piratical swagger that has its attraction, and anyway, the poor bird has to live. I often think that the magpie is Britain's "tropical" bird, so bright is its plumage. Then there's the herring gull, a species with habits that in seaside towns have earned it the soubriquet, "flying rat". Dive-bombing people (in defence of its rooftop territory when it has chicks), tearing open bin bags and foraging in litter bins in search of food, "spotting" cars, windows and people: these are not the actions that win admirers. And finally there's the collared dove (Streptopelia decaocto). Doves are a symbol of peace, known for their loving nature, and usually quite timid. So what is it about the collared dove that raises the ire? Well, it's that monotonous, insistent, trisyllabic "coo". The call, uttered from a house roof or tree-top vantage point early on a spring or summer morning, when people are trying to sleep, has been known to drive the most mild-mannered to violence. My house has collared doves that sit on our chimney pots, calling, so that their voices are heard clearly emanating from fireplaces of two of the ground-floor rooms. However, I'm pleased to say that I am able to filter the sound quite easily, and what irritates many, doesn't affect me. In fact I quite like the ubiquitous collared dove, and am old enough to remember the time when it had never been seen in Britain.

The example in today's photograph sat very obligingly on an eighteenth century gravestone at Croyland Abbey whilst I took its photograph. I think if I'd have taken a step closer it would have taken fright and flight. Oh, and by the way, I still don't photograph birds.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 150mm (300mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/500
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -0.7 EV
Image Stabilisation: On