It was a rerun of an Alfred Hitchcock movie a few days ago that prompted me to write on a subject very close to my heart i.e. wild creatures and in this week’s column, birds. I can tell you with some authority, derived from experience that there is no other form of wild life in nature’s inventory more wonderful than the one bestowed with feathers, beaks and claws. Members of this species come in a variety of vocational manifestations. Some are comedians, while others range from builders to nature’s cleanup crews.

The common Mynah for example is one of the best standup comics that I have ever seen. Its mimicry and body language both amazes and bewilders us. A large family of these jokers living on my premises has not only provided us with entertainment by mimicking our cat and chickens (confusing our pets to no end), but have turned out be excellent watch dogs. I say this because their raucous alarm calls have made it possible for us to rid our compound of dangerous snakes.

Driving home from work, I often marvel at the architectural and home making skills of the weaver bird. This tiny yellow colored marvel weaves its shapely home from grass and soft twigs and then lines it with feathers. It then hatches and rears its young in the prickly safety of the wild acacia tree.

The Bower Bird is something of a showbiz character and a flamboyant romantic. It first builds a ground-floor bower out of twigs and then decorates it with beads, pieces of shiny objects, colorful flowers and pebbles. Once done, it embarks upon a courtship ritual to attract a mate. Needless to say, the best and most attractive Bower takes the cake (or mate).

Had it not been for the much maligned family of winged scavengers, the world would have been an unsanitary place. The most well-known member of this family is the Vulture, which picks a carcass clean of rotting meat in minutes and can justly be called the King of Nature’s Cleaning Crew.

The Rose Climbers on our verandah pillars have become home to a Dove and a Yellow Fluted Bulbul. Both nests are only a few inches apart, but the birds have raised two generations of their young from these very nests in total harmony. It is perhaps the security that the thorny ‘Crimson Glory’ provides and the food and water that we place nearby that has prompted these wonderful creatures to live alongside us without fear.

I often used to get upset when dozens of red and yellow fluted Bulbuls damaged the apples in my garden. I have stopped doing so, because I have discovered a friend in these ‘warblers of the wild.’ My apple trees were recently infested by a green caterpillar, which would have destroyed everything had it not been for my tiny feathered friends. While I was still debating whether to break my cardinal rule of not spraying plants with toxic chemicals, the ‘Bulbul’ family made short work of the infestation. I have now granted these birds license to eat any number of apples or fruit from my garden.

My grandfather once told me that “everyone could see, but it was only a few wise ones that could observe and learn”. If only humanity could observe the creatures that live around us at home and in the wild, we would be better people. We could learn fidelity and loyalty from canines; dignity and poise from felines; respect for group and social laws from creatures that live and hunt in packs, but above all, we can learn to have respect for life – for a wild creature (unlike the human race) never kills wantonly – it only takes life when threatened or hungry.

The writer is a historian.