Our feathered friends and why I love them so....
by Richard Mitchell
Nothing puts god in a rage,
Like a linnet in a cage.
But what delights us, bye the bye,
Is to see the creature in a pie.
There are not only people who think birds are interesting, they don't even realise how ill they are.
These people, called bird watchers (or, tellingly, twitchers) go round watching birds. They claim it is a scientific interest reflecting a love of nature, but it is in fact nothing more than trainspotting in the country.
They might wax lyrical about an afternoon spent in a marsh watching the increasingly rare male of the rare lesser-spotted lofthopper having a scratch under its wings. But if we still had any functioning trains in this country, they would noting down the numbers of the intercity 225s instead. They could be in the station buffet with a nice cup of tea. And a bun, too, and they wouldn't be in trouble with their mums for getting muddy when they got home. (Despite being aged around 55 all birdwatchers still live with their mums.)
And what is really bizarre about the practice is that in the United Kingdom they have a royal society to belong to. This is quite insidious, and represents, well, see what you think.
Honestly, I've tried to understand this obsession. I can see four chickens from where I am sitting. Three are in the garden, and one is on a plate. This last has a little garlic and rosemary and will give immense pleasure to anyone who sits down and eats it, but watching it is quite frankly tedious, and the work of deranged obsessives who don't get on with girls.
What about a royal society of trainspotters then (patron: any of the more mad members of the royal family who don't get out much these days).
The thing about birds is that we shouldn't be protecting them anyway - what these people don't realise is its us or them.
Let me explain.
The answer to the old question, which came first the chicken or the egg, is of course the egg. What laid it was not a chicken exactly. It was something altogether less henny penny, more tyrannosaurussy-wussy. The damn things evolved from dinosaurs.
Picture a plucked hen about 30 feet high, and with rows of needle teeth instead of an innocent looking beak. Dead ringer for the terror of the Jurassic.
* * *
On a metaphysical plane -- the Creator sits with some representatives of the dinosaurs...
Creator: You boys have been on earth now for what, 40 million years?
T.rex: Damn right. (Swishes tail.) Lords of creation, I'm athinking...
Creator (peeved): Actually, sonny, I think that's my job. And it's what I want to talk to you about. You've had centre stage for long enough. Explored all the potential. Nothing's moving on. Bor-ring. I'm giving the third stone over to humans.
T.rex: Saywhat! What is humans, anyhow?
Creator: Pink or brown thing, about five-ten, bipedal -- you proved the principle works -- primate. Mammalian. Breed like, well, rabbits, but don't go there.
Uneversaurus: Mammals! You are replacing us - lizards who make the earth shake with every step - with a bunch of egg sucking rats!
T.rex: Over my dead body!
Creator: No problem (influences path of comet) look, if you fellas want to embrace evolution, move with the times, I'll let you go places. I'll loosen up bonds on your genotypes, make it easy to mutate, go the way you want...
Dontgetsaurus: We had the whole world for millions of years, we watched a landmass break up. We watched the patterns of stars change in the night sky. If the only way is down, oblivion might be more fitting. If there is no more greatness...
Creator (kindly): I know. I haven't forgotten you and what you are is noting to what you can be. You had the earth. I'll give you the air.
The creator showed them the shape they could become, a blur of feather and sky, and let them feel just for a moment the freedom that only a bird can know.
And the dinosaurs looked at the bird, and the joy it felt with every beat of its wing, and looked down at their great slow stupid bodies that tied them to the earth, and knew the future was bright and good.
The old stegosaurus felt a tear form in his rheumy eye, and croaked a thank you. After so many generations to be free of this prison of spiked, lumpen flesh....
And all resolved to evolve, and were full of happiness -- apart from the T. Rex, who was bad to the bone.
Several million years pass, and Charles Darwin (chief naturalist on board the good ship Endeavour) observes the finches on the Galapagos Islands. On each island, the finch has adapted to eat a different type of food. On one it is nuts, on the next it is worms and so on. Every island has its own distinct species, with a distinctively adapted beak.
"They can change so fast, " thought Darwin." As though these birds could change their very form in a generation. Such forces are at play, natural selection can create a mouse from an elephant..."
Charlie D. realised that evolution was at work, and sat down to pen the descent of man, revolutionising the way people think, then and now about their place in the natural order of things.
And here is the problem with birds, or rather two.
1. There is no point in trying to collect sightings of all the bird species. Unlike trains, they are still coming out with new ones. Think you have got the set, and thanks to that tricky T.rex (and its determined, vengeful mutation) another species has evolved while you were looking elsewhere.
2. Sooner or later, the T.rex genes will assert themselves, and your breakfast egg will hatch, and it will eat you.
* * *
That cooked chicken. From the moment it hatched it was trouble, running very fast and with a vicious streak while still covered with golden fluff.
I had to kill it after that business with next door's dog (apparently it was quite valuable, a mastiff) It was only while I plucked it I found the long curved claws hidden in the feathers.
But what the hell, it tastes fine - a little gamey perhaps. And of course, now it is cooked there is no way an unusual genetic code could be passed on, is there?
© Richard Mitchell 2001