The birds in the morning became a source of great pleasure. Mike had started the feeding early on before I arrived in Mauritius. We tended to buy baguettes fresh from the supermarket or local store, but we never ate it all in a day, and by the second morning the crust was hard, the inside starting to go stale and dry. So we always bought a fresh loaf each day. In fact we bought far too much but Mike’s approach was to go large rather than go hungry. So he started breaking it up and putting it in the driveway, and as the birds started to increase in number and confidence, threw it on the car port floor itself. I was happy to pick up the habit, and we often had a number of birds hanging around in the morning waiting for the feed; so much in expectation that they would flutter and squeak at you once you opened the security gate as if in protest at the poor service standards.
We had several types of birds come in. Most numerous were the ubiquitous house sparrows who started appearing in ones or two’s – after a few weeks there were over 25 regularly turning up in the morning. We’d watch the squabbling, worked out families, saw flirtations. All life was here. A few periods we would see young fledglings come in with their mother. They would stand on the sidelines squawking away while their mother would graze up the crumbs and fly up to feed them. After a while they would chase their mother around the floor and she would give up and let them have some out of their food. Finally they would see their noise was futile and after a couple of minutes of traipsing after their mother would realise the only way they would get a meal was if they picked it up themselves.
The fighting was tempestuous at times. With all the other birds feeding away, two sparrows would come haring through the car port, screaming at the tops of their little voices. We occasionally saw some ruthless bullying of a bird out in the garden – a whole mob bombing down on him with claws and beaks until, with a bit of luck, he could escape beyond their territories.
While not so numerous, the pigeons ate the most of the bread. They would flock in to the driveway first, then circuitously wander round the garden as if the last things on their tiny minds was to have bread for breakfast, and then, if they thought you were not looking would come in to the car port and start to feed. The whole coy effort was a charade; once close to the bread, very little could shoo them away again. The only distraction was sex. It seemed to be constantly on the minds of the males. I found it impossible to distinguish the sexes of the pigeons until I saw the male pursuing the female round the car port. They became so single minded that they would stomp on other birds, bump into their fellow pigeons feeding and even blunder into our chairs. The females seemed almost permanently uninterested in any advances, indeed did everything to get away from these pests. But they would coo and nod their heads and strut away with all the charm of an Essex boy at a disco. And of course when they did manage to jump the female, the coital embrace lasted less than a second and he would be off in pursuit of another. Didn’t seem worth it at all in my mind; although I was always taught about the birds and the bees, the bird way was so = fleeting. At least it was better than the bees for the male; drones explode their insides on ejaculation with a queen bee and die.
The pigeons bullied the other birds not intentionally, just by their much larger size and blundering presence, so we tried to dissuade them and hope that some of the more interesting avian fauna would grace us with their presence.