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With and under the feathers of birds

Spring is back and with it the birdsong. They are so melodious in Berlin that it is hard to go home to continue listening to them.

The crows’ tac tac announces their return to Berlin; they come from Siberia to stay at the end of winter in the capital. They gather in the evening croaking. The walker may also be surprised by varied and unusual melodies. It is the jays that amuse themselves by imitating the song of other species and even the meowing of cats or the whinnying of horses.

But it is the tits that roll over on the branches to peck berries and continuously emit cries to communicate with each other. When they reach the tops of the trees, they puff out their plumage and sing monosyllabically and repetitively.

Living in Berlin is in a way “living like a bird”

Live as a bird, the work of Vinciane Despret (born in 1959), philosopher of science, is an investigator of the life of birds, of the way in which they live together. Birds, in fact, are “little masters of thought” that help us get rid of many clichés. Habitat, territoriality, migrations, moults, all these phenomena teach us a certain natural wisdom. We are often seduced by the song of birds, but they still teach us much more when we observe them.

Listen to the dialogue between two blackbirds and see that their silence can also be a significant sequence; observe that the mallard duck during the moult, in the phase of the eclipse when its remiges fall, which prevents it from flying and makes it more vulnerable, are characteristics that can make it easier to think. The pause in singing or the withdrawal by moulting are interesting observations reflecting perhaps moments of fragility that we ourselves are confronted with. Ethologists observe emotions in birds in their different personalities and behaviors. Mating birds can show love towards each other as illustrated in the fable by La Fontaine (1621-1695) titled The two pigeons.

© Claire Limpert – claires-kreationen.de

Berlin is also home to waterfowl

The German capital is known for its many lakes and rivers. Thus, seagulls, gulls, ducks, water hens, swans and some gray herons are attracted by the richness that water brings them, especially fish. Berlin is paradise for biodiversity and wild animals.

The Westhavelland nature park west of Berlin is the domain of water and in particular the water of the Havel, it is the resting place of migratory birds from the North.

Illustration depicting a heron
© Claire Limpert – claires-kreationen.de

birds in literature

Referring to the taste of birds, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) writes one of the most beautiful quotes and thoughts about them: “It is children and birds who should be asked about the taste of cherries and strawberries”. But birds can also be perceived by artists as fantasies, they are fascinating because they come from prehistoric times, indeed birds, still called avian dinosaurs, are the only current representatives of theropod dinosaurs.

William Wharton (1925-2008) in his fiction Birdy, presents a character who has only one passion, that of birds. His life is organized around huge aviaries he builds for his canaries, but his obsession soon turns mad, he wants to fly and become a bird himself. Birds have fascinated generations of humans by their songs but especially by the fact that they fly. Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) designed and built flying machines that looked more like gliding than flapping.

Other artists, like Patrick Süskind (1949- ) created a climate of fear, even phobia for a taciturn 50-year-old confronted with the presence of a pigeon in the hallway leading to his room. Similarly, in the American thriller, the birds, inspired by the eponymous short story by Daphne du Maurier (1907-1989), Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980) shows crows attacking humans.

Birds at the service of man

However, many birds have served man. Starting with the pigeons which, thanks to their sense of direction, are able to transmit messages. Before GPS and the internet, carrier pigeons served the Egyptians, Persians, Chinese and Greeks, the latter communicating the results of the Olympic Games using pigeons, then the Romans including Pliny the Elder (23 AD – 79) wrote in his Natural History: “What use are ramparts and sentinels and blockade, when news can be sent across space”.

During the First World War, the Germans used spy pigeons which carried a miniature camera. Carrier pigeons can travel 1000 kilometers in one go, without a break at a top speed of 120 km/h. They orient themselves thanks to magnetite crystals but also by the earth’s magnetic field and the position of the sun and the stars.

Perhaps the most amazing story is that of a pigeon that made a Rothschild’s fortune. Indeed, during the defeat of Napoleon (1769-1821) at Waterloo in 1815, this financier, thanks to a messenger pigeon, had this information before anyone else, which allowed him excellent stock market speculation.

We also remember the pigeons named “Vaillant” and Cher Ami” who saved soldiers during the First World War. Charles Fourier (1772-1837), a philosopher in his very original work entitled L’harmonie universelle et les phalanstères, points out that a revolution could give rise to libertarian micro-societies where pigeons would be the best messengers.

Other birds helped men hunt or fish. For example, cormorant fishing is a traditional method in which anglers use cormorants to fish in fresh water. For 1300 years, this fishing has been practiced in Japan “UKAI” but is now a tourist attraction. To control birds; the fishermen put a ligature at the base of the throat which prevents them from swallowing the biggest fish, but allows the smallest to pass. In Europe, cormorant fishing was briefly practiced from the 16th to the 17th centuries in England and France.

With regard to hunting, the art of falconry helps to capture game in its natural environment with a hungry (trained) bird of prey. Falconry has its origins in the steppes and highlands of central Europe. Emperor Frederick II of Hohenstaufen practiced hunting with the falcon in the woods of Vulture, in the Italian region of Basilicata. With Louis XIII, France with this art reached its peak.

German government website
German government website

National emblems

If the federal eagle is the national animal symbol of Germany, it is the equivalent of the rooster for France. The double-headed eagle was the symbol of the German Confederation of 1814, it was single-headed during the German Empire of 1871 and the Weimar Republic of 1919.

Many birds have helped men in their various activities. We must respect them and safeguard them, because 421 million birds have disappeared in less than 30 years in Europe, such as the European goldfinch, the cuckoo, the red kite, the wood pigeon, the gray partridge, the lark. Pollution, pesticides, climate change largely due to human presence are the causes. Let’s take flight and save our flying friends!

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