Monday, June 07, 2010
Remember when I looked after a young hadeda who couldn’t quite manage to takeoff on her own two wings last year? It’d seemed like a good idea at the time but my charitable deed has created an alarming precedent. Word’s spread. Now, not only do my rescued hadeda’s offspring see it is their rightful heritage to raid my kitchen each day but hadedas from across the country line up each day at 5 am. Their assembled ranks would make General Montgomery proud. Rows of glistening-grey feathered trench coats line rooftops, reflecting the dawn light. If I dare to have a lie-in, their leader sounds the reveille. I’m sure their squawking sets off alarms in nearby houses.
I’m well into a third generation of beggars, um, I mean hadedas now. What used to be a cute party trick when one cautious hadeda tip-clawed her way up to the dog’s bowl in the kitchen has now become an onslaught. The cocky youngsters aren’t frightened at all by said dog’s presence as they lay siege to her bowl of Pedigree. Even when our marmalade cat tries to block the doorway with his bulk, which is not inconsiderable, he is shoved aside as they troop in like a well-trained assault team.
They now see it as normal that I give them their daily bread. I’ve had to resort to bread, you see, as Pedigree is so expensive I can barely feed the dog on it. So I buy the cheapest bread and try not to think of the hungry children it could feed instead of beaky intruders.
A while ago I decided to become hard-hearted and closed the door on the pushy throng. There are only so many times one can slip on hadeda poo in one’s own kitchen, after all.
They must’ve known. It wasn’t long before a daughter of the trailblazing bird set up a fragile nest in a tree outside the window where I work. She balanced precariously on a frail branch just when I’d resolved to keep my back security gate locked at all times.
As I tried not to take any notice of the nest, the soon-to-be mother laid two eggs. Within weeks mottled-brown shells fell from the sky. Soon I could see two scrawny necks sticking up over the nest squeaking desperately for food.
Mother bird exhausted herself flying back and forth with titbits. I felt sorry for her. I know exactly what it’s like trying to feed a houseful of starving children. So I decided to throw out a few choice bits of Pedigree. Just for her. I even let her come into the kitchen on her own a few times.
Soon it was with a sense of pride that I watched mother bird encourage her fledglings to stretch their wings for the first time. I saw first one, then the other, flutter down to the grass under the pepper tree. They stumbled around wide-legged like drunk wind-up soldiers. I never thought a hadeda could be adorable but these were.
It was only a matter of time before they joined their mother outside my back door. Their cries became more insistent as the days went by. At one point mother bird looked smaller than they were, so worn-out was she by her constant foraging for food. Her exhaustion resonated with me. I remember the draining days of nursing niggly toddlers only too well. Mother bird officially became the fifth member of my domestic menagerie at that point. I heaved a sigh of relief every time she threw her wings up in despair and went off on a fly-about for some peace. The two youngsters waited on the rooftops, staring after her in confused silence, desperate for her return. But even mother birds need a break.
Once I thought the babies were big enough to feed themselves, I resorted to locking the back security gate again, this time with steely resolve. That was until mother bird came back with only one of her babies. And with a badly broken foot. She limped towards the gate hopefully. I couldn’t bear it. Of course I had to let her in.
Within days word was out. They all came back. Now it’s official: I’m a complete pushover. Ask any self-respecting hadeda.
First published in The Witness, March 2010.