Works in the Herald 1933

Can man improve upon the works of nature? Lately I have been asking myself this question a dozen times a day, for I find myself caught in a quandary, so to speak. It all arose out of this growing habit of seeking the friendship of bush birds, which has become rather a daily ceremony at my home in the forest.

Inducing a wild bird to perch upon one's finger, for instance, and to feed confidently from one's palm, may bear evidence of much painstaking and patient effort. It may also flatter one's own reputation for gentle kindness and may amuse and amaze visitors for a time.

But is it not, I asked, a mere selfish employ? And what eventual effect is it having on the birds themselves, which is, I think, the chief thing to be considered?

I was, therefore, rather inclined to agree with a certain artist friend of ours who lately witnessed and sternly condemned this practice of what he termed "blandishing the birds." He held that all this feeding and unnatural friendship was merely pauperising, or our own selfish satisfaction and love of display, a free, independent and hitherto happy race of people who were far better left to their own devices.

It was, he said, undermining insidiously their natural self-reliant qualities, teaching them laziness and mendicity, and generally upsetting the beautiful balance of nature.

He pictured the painfully crude efforts of this inept sissy-bird to dig up a living for himself thereafter, his fumbling attempts, with undeveloped vision and ineffective beak, to acquire, at the age of six months, a trade which every self-respecting "uncivilised" young bird begins to master before he is more than a few weeks old.

He painted, in glowing word pictures, the despair, the shame, the growing inferiority complex of this unhappy fledgling -- a complex magnified by the ribald mockery of his normally efficient fellows, whose derision mounted to savage contempt and ended at last in physical violence.

We were almost in tears when our friend had finished his harrowing recital, and I, for one, might have been wholly convinced, had he not cited as examples two of our chief avian pensioners, John Silver and his wife, One Pin Peg.

Silver and Peg are a pair of magpies, and each has lost a leg (evidently in rabbit traps). They are not pensioners, so much as shameless gangsters who not only accept but peremptorily demand daily sustenance.

And what our artist mistook for their persecution by other magpies is really quite the opposite. Those two hardy cripples, John Silver and Peg are always the aggressors.

Even so, our artist might still have convinced us had he not utterly stultified his own argument early next morning as we observed him through a window.

Thinking himself unseen, he spent half an hour in patient but clumsy efforts to induce a yellow robin to accept from his hand a angry lump of cold rice pudding -- a food which yellow robins very rightly scorn and despise.

But still I am left with my quandary, which some real nature student may be able to solve. Can man improve upon the works of nature, and does a blandished bird lose caste?

Herald, 23 November 1933, p6

Copyright © Perry Middlemiss 2002