Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Hadeda Haven

Most people I know hate hadedas. I used to too. Especially when they wake me up at four am screeching like wounded babies. I even understood neighbours who set off crackers in their trees to chase resident hadeda families away. After all, everyone needs some peace.

And then a Hadeda was left at my doorstep. She wasn’t quite wrapped in swaddling clothes (let’s say it was a she) but her parents brought her to my back door because she couldn’t fly properly. Well, perhaps the parents didn’t actually see me as the SOS Hadeda’s Village. But the baby was left in my back garden while the concerned parents fretted nearby. Darkness fell. We still had a large aviary in our garden left over from my children’s enthusiastic bird loving days. So I gently guided the baby Hadeda into the aviary. Then I closed the large wire door on her. In the morning I opened the door a little when her parents returned. They spent the day with her, coming in and out as they fed her. After a few days she was gone. She was strong enough to fly. That was that, I thought.

I was wrong.

The mother and her babies began to arrive at my doorstep every morning. I threw out stale bread for them, pleased that they remembered my kindness. Over the years the mother has continued to bring her babies to my back door every morning. If they hear my voice in the front garden, they’ll flutter down and see if I have any treats for them there too. I must say that this familiarity from the Hadeda community has not pleased my Springer spaniel. Trained to chase everything with wings, she has a real battle every time I tell her to leave the Hadedas alone. Her nature arm-wrestles her nurture, and every now and then, when I’m not looking, she’ll chase them away in ecstatic doggie delight.

The younger generation of Hadedas have exceeded their mother’s trust in me. They’ve become so tame that they now walk into the kitchen to help themselves to my spaniel’s pellets. Pedigree is their favourite. They’ll even walk in when I’m sitting at the kitchen table having tea with my quieter friends. Noisier guests, who don’t know that we have visiting pterodactyl look-alikes, have frightened the Hadedas and themselves by walking into the kitchen boldly. A large feathery creature has often been scared into a state of apoplectic panic. Pot plants scatter and bird poo plops until I can grab the terrified Hadeda and guide it outside again. The worst case was when a Hadeda flew straight through the kitchen window. It was classic. There was a Hadeda shaped hole through the window and fortunately the Hadeda was back unharmed the next day.

R500 later, I now try to keep the kitchen’s security gate closed and throw dog pellets out every morning to prevent anymore damage. But the moment the door is left open, the Hadedas are back en masse.

After the recent bad storms I was distressed to see one of the younger Hadedas unable to walk. It had squatted down in the grass and then took off with a large string of plastic netting attached to its left claw. I spent ages trying to get closer to her so I could remove the netting. (I think she’s a “she” but who knows?) Each time I was close enough to touch her, she’d take off.

After a few days the trail of netting got shorter, and I was relieved when it fell off entirely. Unfortunately the bird’s claw is badly damaged. She just manages to hobble around. So I leave out special titbits for her, and talk to her, trying to encourage her to use her foot a bit more each day. She seems to be getting a little better. And when she isn’t eating, she rests on the grass just outside the back door.

I never thought I’d include a family of Hadedas in my menagerie but I’ve discovered that even the noisiest creature can have its attractive side. My spaniel, on the other hand, does not agree.

Published in The Witness on 10 December 2008.