It wasn’t snowing in Cuba when we arrived, although it was their winter. The weather was a comfortable 30 degrees with a soft cooling breeze coming in from the sea. There were
black birds perched in the palm trees around the pool that first morning which for want of a better name I called the ‘waiter birds’. They were dressed in all black tuxedos with
matching black beaks and they gave out sharp tooting calls as they waited for their work to begin. As soon as the guests left the breakfast table the waiter birds swooped in. First they cleared up the plates and then any debris left on the table. They were speedy and efficient, beating their human counterparts on almost all occasions. With attention to detail they would dig their beaks into the chairs, tidying up every crumb and finally have a quick scoot round under the table to make sure all was clear in preparation for the next occupants. If you ignored the fact that they tended to wipe their beaks on the back of the chair then all in all it was an excellent service.
It was also winter in England and a day or two after our return the snow came. With mynose still peeling from the sun I found myself pulling on my snow boots and fur lined pilot’s hat to go out to feed the birds. Large snowflakes fell around me as I shook slush off the feeder tray so that the birds could find the food. I put out all the usual stuff, meal worms, sunflower seeds and peanuts, some on the tray and some on the ground and then retreated back indoors. I watched two pigeons peck away at the snow, flicking it up in the air with their beaks but they were well away from the area where the food lay. What pigeons lack in intelligence they make up for with diligence and they continued in this fashion until I could stand it no longer. I realised that no snow had fallen under the garden table creating a sizable alfresco dining area for the short-sighted. I booted up again and went out to serve up a pick n mix delight beneath the cover of the table cloth and thoughtfully provided some fresh drinking water on the side.
The blackbird didn’t hesitate and scurried into the covered dining area to check out the fare. A single robin sat high in the mezzanine level of the feeder tray and alternately ate meal worms followed by a helping of fat ball. The pigeons however, believed it to be a trap and hung around the edges of the clearing pecking away in the hope of finding a seed here or there. Another blackbird came to join the first but there seemed to be some disagreement about his reservation and he was duly seen off by the first. He tried again, clearly explaining that there must have been some mistake but finally accepted that he would have to wait his turn. A few starlings arrived and settled on the feeder tray followed by a few more and then the late arrivals. They all crammed together on the tray heads dipping and bobbing between feet and wings like they were trying to enter the Guinness Book of Records, but before one of them could do a head count they began to fall away.
A couple of crows arrived, one as big as a small vulture and they searched out the peanuts; then suddenly there was a flashmob of birds. Starlings hung from the tree, the crows and pigeons moved in circles round each other under the table and the blackbirds sprinted back and forth from the tree to the covered dining area. The robins flew in to dive-bomb the fat ball and another queue of birds waited in line on the fence. Good job it was self-service. Then one of them remembered a two for one offer down the road and they all took off. They’ll be back, I thought as I settled down to a fresh cup of coffee and a warm by the fire.