Wednesday, May 27, 2009
JOHANNESBURG'S NEW IMMIGRANTS
When I was a child, my mother excitedly pointed out a flying pair of ibis. It was an unusual sight in those days and meant good luck. I don’t remember if they brought us any luck, but I know for sure that there have never been so many ibis strolling around our neighbourhoods. Like chickenman, hadeda ibis are everywhere, they’ve made themselves so completely at home in the suburbs that they barely pause poking their beaks into the grass past churning, snarling morning traffic.
They’re about the size of a duck if it had long legs and a curved beak and their feathers are an iridescent leathery gray. Like a ducktail duck with a flickknife beak, although they’re not at all threatening. They have large moist eyes and big heads, and humans are programmed to find that combination irresistibly cute. Apparently, and I don’t know for sure (there was that rubbery "guineafowl" I ate that one time) they don’t taste too good, which might explain why they’re so ubiquitous.
In a way it’s a match made in heaven, Johannesburg is a forest city, and the birds love all the trees. They’re useful too, they suck up huge quantities of commonly regarded household pests, like Parktown prawns (about more later) and snails, so they’re encouraged, and they don’t need to be fed, they manage very well for themselves, thank you very much. They bother noone and noone bothers them.
There's one downside to these lovely birds, the blood curdling shriek they make when they’re startled, har-har, like a demented sailor. If you’ve had a cacophony of three or four of them in a tree outside your bedroom on a Sunday morning, you will achieve depths of hatred you didn’t think possible. They also enjoy sitting on individual houses or trees and calling to each at the tops of their voices, but then everyone in Joburg does that.