While prospecting new birding sites for material opportunities to substantiate bird article writings, I came across a Malaysian kampong (village) in a rural area. It supports a small Malay community with traditional values, living the comforts of 20th Century semi-concrete jungles (left).
It was a delight to see a substantial species of healthy birds. Fruits and flowering trees abound and the environment provides a peaceful, safe haven for avian breeding. However, there was something strange about this village. My bird checklist shows the absence of two bird species that should and would normally be seen commonly in the wild, and in my part of the world – Malaysia.
The Spotted Dove (Streptopelia chinensis) was no where to be seen (above left). Neither was smaller cousin, Zebra or Peaceful Dove (Geopelia striata) (above right).
Strolling further along the village path, I stumbled into what I would describe to be a small colony of feathered friends. It looked like all the Spotted and Peaceful Doves of the village have been rounded up to form a nuclear family – an ‘Alcatraz’ of spots and stripes to placate the human joy of keeping birds as house pets.
Let’s visit Spotty, the Spotted Dove and Zee the Peaceful Dove and be introduced to their inmates and listen to their conversation, to know what their avian world is like – to be restrained and caged (right).
“I’m bored, I’m bored!” cooed Spotty, swaying repeatedly from his opened Cell 102, of rattan and wood, suspended under the canopy of a matured, flowering star fruit (Averrhoa carambola) tree.
A reply came from Spotty’s closest neighbour Zee, also known as Zebra Dove from her rectangular Cell 101 (below left).
“Well, at least your cell is open-air and gives a feel of ‘freedom come’. Mine…? A wired looking coffin, I’ve resigned my fate too.”
“Besides, I have no cause to complain as our guardians top up our grain pots and we never have to worry nor go hungry. See? I’ve got two varieties of potted grains and a water tub. Erh…. a bit green, but ‘ok’ I suppose…” (above right).
Just then, the conversation was interrupted by rattling sounds coming from Cell 103. The owner, mad George Jr. – the adolescent Peaceful Dove was rattling his cage (left top). “I must fly! I must fly!” squeaked George Jr., flying restlessly in circles inside his rectangular cage and sheltered by a roof of recycled zinc sheet (left middle).
“I wanna be a man! I wanna be a man!” sang George Jr., standing up like a man and continued his frenzy, flying act (left bottom).
George Jr. reminded me of my youth days when the big circus claiming to be ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’ came to town. One of the highlights was the ‘Flying cycles’.
A giant, hollow, rattan ball inside the enormous tent top was set up. The organisers had two motorbikes inside the ball. Two hell riders were sent into it and had them flying in circles, criss-crossing each other in their roaring machines, in deafening super speed.
Ah… I imagined those riders who took up such dare devilled assignments, must have in time, succumbed to brain death prior to collapsing into their coffins!
“That’s just George Jr. gone mad. Poor chap! Consumed by excessive levels of testosterone.” remarked Spotty in mid conversation.
He rolled his eyes at George Jr. From the corner of his eye, he noticed a new inmate’s cage under the next tree.
“And who are you, young child? How did you end up here?” asked Spotty.
“I am Pickle, the juvenile Zebra Dove.”
“I flew into a trap set underground and had my feet caught on those fish nettings. I thought I heard Mom calling me for breakfast. The next thing I knew, I was picked up by a pair of walking trousers who untangled me and brought me here,” she explained.
“Now, I don’t have to look for my food in the wild anymore nor be afraid of predators who hunt me down for their supper. It’s kind of good life here, like staying in a 4-star hotel room that comes with cleaning services and a room number too,” the naïve juvenile added (right).
“Ha! You mean Cell 104?” retorted Knobby, the Spotted Dove. Take a look at my left ankle. I’ve been shackled to this darn circular, see-through rattan dish labelled, ‘Cell 105’ and assigned sentry duties for life” (left).
“I get parked here in the dark, front-corner door entrance. I earn my keep having to look left, look front, look right and right again. It’s a twenty-four, seven job. I’ve lost my will to take on the ‘Great Escape’. Just get fat, perching and looking,” sighed Knobby (below).
“Well, at least you’re not looking like a pathetic candidate staggering out from ‘Schindler’s List.’ cooed a voice in unison from Cell 106. It was Herman and Hilda, a pair of Peaceful Doves housed in a large, metal cage roofed with an empty, polythene rice bag.
They were very much resigned to their cell even though their drinking vessel remained unchanged and greened with algae (below left).
“You haven’t got that Hulky feeling yet, you guys?” chirped Ernie, the lonely Peaceful Dove from his rotunda Cell 107 (below right).
“Oh, you saucy little fella! Just leave them alone.” came a deep voice from Cell 108.
“I know you…” the voice said.
“Ha! You were that ‘lover boy’. The one, who fell straight into a racket trap when those trappers strung Suzie up a bamboo pole to coo for a lover!” announced Liberace, the flamboyant Spotted Dove (below).
“Ok, ok you can’t keep secrets can you?” Ernie felt revealed.
“Now you know mine, how about you telling your secrets of how you got here, handsome boy? Surely it’s got to do with your good looks. Come on…… tell, tell!” coaxed Ernie.
Liberace just could not resist displaying his vanity. With his ‘diamond studded’ spots and matching furry, feathered coat, he was too keen to pose for photographers – those that came with huge bazooka-looking lens. They decided it was fun to flash the daylights out of him.
“The humiliating part was that those weirdoes with two walking legs were carrying three more skinny legs. Men and women turning into talking birds were walking up and down the lane, cooing from a machine planted in the palm of their hands, sending out sweet nothing. I was curious to see who those freaks were and responded to their call. I was desperate for a duet. To ‘add salt to my wounds’, they left hurriedly after their shoot, paid me nothing for all those fine adornment!” lamented the songbird.
“A bird trapper watched the performances. He decided to string up a mist net to get me for free too! I felt cheated and so ashamed. And to end my life, what the heck, I made a suicidal dash flight into the net” he added.
“I did not die… but found myself ended up in a pet shop, sold for fifty bucks!” he said tearfully.
“Oh! So sad… and I am sorry to hear that,” cooed Ernie, softly.
Every inmate in the colony went quiet and understood why Liberace’s cooing was always a melancholy tune – ‘wu-bwrroo…wu-bwrroo’.
A desperate guttural ‘coo’ yearned to be heard from the far end of the owner’s house. It was from CELL 109, George Sr. the Spotted Dove.
He has gone a bit hard of hearing; always having his back turned and looking towards the sunset. But, still has a little spunk left to squawk out his last three worded vocabulary repeatedly, day in, day out.
“Al dam bastards! Al dam bastards!” (left).
This last paragraph concludes to spare a thought for birds in captivity. It is a review of bird pet ownership and how caring birders and bird-photographers can further contribute to protection and ‘cushion’ birds in the wild.
At time of writing, the Spotted Dove and Peaceful Dove were not yet enlisted in the defunct, outdated ‘Protection of Wildlife Act 1972 of Malaysia.’
All images presented are mainly derived from digiscopy. Flash photography preferred not used.
SUBMITTED BY DAISY O’NEILL (Avian Writer), PENANG, MALAYSIA.