The Kelburn Accidental Bird Watching Club
The other day, I saw a chicken cross the road. It was a round black hen, just minding its own business and miraculously not being run over while it dawdled in the middle of the street.
‘Wonder why it’s crossing the road,’ I mused aloud. Hilarious.
‘It’s probably lost,’ Jake suggested.
‘Maybe it’ll find its way home. Maybe chickens have extraordinary senses of direction.’
‘It’s got a brain the size of a pea.’
‘Yeah, but cats have tiny little heads and they have amazing senses of direction.’
We watched the chicken reach the other side and proceed to climb up someone’s front steps, very purposefully, I thought. It disappeared from view and we carried on home, debating the parameters of a chicken’s cognitive capacity. It was a short discussion, since we were only about twenty feet from home. Also, this is not the first time I’ve seen chickens wandering around our neighbourhood.
There are lots of really awesome birds in the neighbourhood, which is called Kelburn (aka childhood home of New Zealand’s most recent Oscar winner and Flight of the Conchords guy, Bret McKenzie. Suburb of champions, is what it is). This was unexpected, since it’s a fifteen minute walk from the centre of downtown and has a university campus in it. It’s not exactly urban, but it’s very developed. That said, it’s kind of developed around a forest, with houses popping out of the hill like mushrooms. Kelburn’s not a ride-on lawnmower kind of suburb, is what I’m saying. I mean, that’s the view from my bedroom window:
Hence the birds. Not just chickens, either. Chicken ownership is just one of those New Zealand things that is for some reason widely done here without the New York Times first announcing that it’s trendy. Chicken ownership for practical reasons or something. I’m not really sure.
Anyway. Wild birds. The first morning we spent the night in our flat, I woke up to the funkiest bird tune I’d ever heard. I’ll never forget the sun streaming through the windows at quarter to 8, and the do doodle doo clack clack of the bird outside the window. It was the most legitimately song-like bird song I’d ever heard. And not a chirpy Disney type song, but very assertive tones and then some noises that sounded like someone playing a bamboo xylophone. Amazing.
It was a tui, aka my new favourite bird ever. They don’t really live in Christchurch, so this was my first experience with them. I did, however, know how to identify them thanks to a brand of cheap beer:
So when I saw one for real, I went all John James Audubon all over everyone and correctly identified it.
The white feather ball on the throat is kind of a dead giveaway.
What’s really col about tui is their call–all the clicking and clacking and twoodling. Apparently they can mimic human speech too, which is the coolest thing ever.
Tui are also really smart. As smart as parrots, which are widely known as bird geniuses. Wait, did someone say parrots? We have those too.
There are three types of parrots living in New Zealand: kaka, kakapo and kea. I know it sounds like I just made that up, but remember that I’m an ornithological genius. See above identification of a tui as evidence.
Kea are the really obnoxious ones that live in the mountains and destroy shoes and puncture car tyres. They’re pretty coomon. Kakapo are much less so. Highly endangered. Maybe the politically correct way to say it is that they’re evolutionarily challenged. Blind and flightless. Yeah, sucks for them.
Kaka are more like kea, in terms of being able to do basic bird things like fly and see. Though they’re not as prevalent. They only exist in a few alpine patches around the country, like in national parks atop the Southern Alps. And in my neighbourhood.
Really. As it turns out, I live directly between the botanical gardens and the Zealandia nature sanctuary. Zealandia has 300 kaka tagged for tracking, and they just kind of fly around. They seem to like the botanic gardens a lot, and I almost always see a few there. They also fly past my window at dusk sometimes. You know, parrots and sunsets. Just your average Tuesday.
So that’s pretty much Kelburn. Weird bird calls and parrots swooping around everywhere. And the chickens. Don’t forget the chickens.
I had, for the record, forgotten the chicken. Until one day last week when I went to the little grocery shop down the road. On the door were a number of flyers, promoting babysitting services and Cantonese tutors and garage sales and this:
Lost a black hen? She’s taken up residence in my garden. Please call if you’d like her back.
With a phone number. So no, as it turns out, chickens are not smart enough to find their way home. Some mysteries solve themselves.