Twitter…warble… trill; chip… chirp ….. tweet… peep; toot… hoot… honk… bleep.
Such are the sounds which emerge from the throats of God’s wondrous, flying creatures. I loved and longed for them all. Born and bred a city girl, my heart was always deep in the countryside, but aside from that first robin-redbreast every spring, the only birdsong I ever heard was the chirping of sparrows. As a kid, I eagerly awaited our annual summer vacations in the “country” on the shores of Lake Michigan. The waves were my nightly lullaby but in the daytime, I whistled my way along wooded country trails (just like Huckleberry Finn…) accompanied by a noisy (and mostly invisible) feathered chorale.
When I was old enough for camp, the birds were our morning buglers and frequent visitors in our U.S. army surplus tents. (Camps were more rugged in those days.)
Later in life, our first home in Israel was in a rural center and was surrounded by gardens and fields. And birds. When we moved to Jerusalem, it was to an older neighborhood filled with trees. And birds. Immediately after the Six Day War, when Jerusalem was still in a frenzy of building, we finally moved into our own apartment only to find ourselves in a sea of dusty, grey concrete. There were no sidewalks, no streets, no gardens, no trees… and no birds. It took years until green replaced grey, and the sounds of birdsong (and traffic) filled the air.
Then we moved again, this time to a small, verdant suburb outside Jerusalem. The apartment was tiny but it boasted a big garden and trees. Our first morning, we awoke to bright yellow sunlight and the sound of birdsong (without the traffic). But this too was only temporary. It lasted until our own apartment, in a newly built section facing the Judean Desert, was ready. There was no concrete this time, but there wasn’t any greenery either. There were bare, sandy hills and a line of scrubby, faded shrubbery marking the trail of the dry wadi beneath our porch.
As soon as we unpacked, I ran to buy planters. I was an artist, about to create a landscape of Living Color. The surrounding homes and gardens also began to sprout flowers and foliage, grass and trees. Today, ten years later, the street is verdant, leafy and blooming. And full of birdsong.
Sparrows – drorim – fill the sky. These unassuming creatures come for a morning drink and then spend the day chattering and socializing on my porch. Their cousins, the yellow breasted Bulbul (also known as a zamir or nightingale) pecks around a bit and then takes to the trees to sing its heart out in the early morning and late afternoon hours.
In the fall, we can glimpse an occasional ostentatious Hoopoe – Duchifat – with his distinctive, tallis-like, black and white striped wings and regal orange crown. His whooping cries bring out all the neighborhood kids. But even though he was voted Israel’s favorite bird, he’s only an autumn visitor. As the cold weather approaches, he leaves for warmer climes in the Sahara.
Another autumn creature is the beloved black and white wagtail – the nachlieli – with its long thin tail, its long skinny legs, and its melodious song. As it hip-hops gracefully across the ground, every passerby stops and smiles. And every Israeli kid can sing the song about the nachlieli katan.
Sometimes we’re blessed with a quick visit from the tiny, iridescent Tzufit – a type of hummingbird which flits over my flowers, hovers in the air, takes a pinch of pollen, and then poof… it’s gone.
A more prominent feathered creature is the Myna bird. These birds were brought here from southern Asia. Several escaped into the wild where they have multiplied and taken over entire areas in the country, driving other birds away. They are distinctive looking birds with their yellow eyes, bills, and feet, but they screech and argue in ear piercing decibels. The first time I heard them I was sure they were being attacked by a cat, but no, they were attacking each other. But when they aren’t fighting, they can out-sing and out-perform even the Bulbul. They are definitely rowdy, but they are also the source of what must surely be divine music.
I gladly share my water and whatever seeds fall from my plants with all of the above (although I do not appreciate when my visitors pick my plants clean of buds!). There are, however, two species of birds I most definitely do not welcome into my domain – the pigeons and the crows.
The orvim – the crows (although they may be ravens. I can’t tell the difference) – rarely land on my porch but they unexpectedly swoop down and around and over one’s head causing many mini-heart attacks. And their early morning cawing is enough to wake the dead. I can think of no redeeming feature for these ugly, noisy birds except that they brought food to Eliyahu HaNavi when he was in hiding from Queen Jezebel. They do not sing a single note to compensate for the horrible noise they make. I was told they moved in from the desert. I wish they would move back, however I suppose they find our garbage a more filling food source than desert pickings.
And then there are yonim – the pigeons. Lots and lots and lots of pigeons. Not doves, but pigeons. They multiply and return in pairs, year after year, to my porch of course, although I suppose they visit other people’s porches on occasion. They like to sit on my banister and sun themselves. You always know they have come by the residue they leave behind. I have tried sprays, shiny CD discs, aluminum foil, chewed chewing gum, anything I could think of short of barbed wire to discourage their visits, but to no avail. And their constant cooing is enough to drive one to despair. A neighbor went after her pigeons with a broom and a vengeance and she said it took a season or two, but they are gone. However she also put up a pergola and I think that’s what did the job (although my kids insist the birds just sit on top of the pergola instead of on the banister.) I mostly shout at them (in English). My “OUT!” bounces back and forth across the wadi as resounding as any bona fide Swiss yodel. This chases the pigeons away, but does not keep them away. Shortly after they leave, they return. I’m not sure which is worse, the dirt they make or their loud, incessant cooing.
Man may be a powerful actor on the world’s stage, but Nature trumps us every time. A Jew, however, has faith and I have not given up. I am sure that all God’s creatures were put here for a reason and I respect their right to exist (except for mosquitoes and roaches). That’s why I’m presently trying to interest the Israeli Defense Forces in a project which will transfer the pigeons and the crows down to Gaza or up to Damascus. Perhaps they may be of some use there. Meanwhile, you’re invited to a daily avian sunrise concert … on our porch.