Move Over, Linnaeus: A digression on birds

I love birds. I’m no ornithologist or twitcher. I do not have a ‘lifetime list’, but I’m always pleased to spot something new. I was intrigued to see and hear parakeets in Surrey. Buzzards have made a big comeback in recent years in our part of the world, and it’s always a thrill to see them wheeling and hear them mewing as they try to catch a thermal. Pigeons are always a source of amusement. Nothing seems to perturb them. They are hopeless slackers when it comes to nest building. They throw sticks at a branch; if three or more stick, they lay their eggs, looking surprised when it falls down. How they ever reproduce is beyond me. This pigeon has built a far better nest than our local birds ever do:


My favourites are house sparrows. Again they’ve made a comeback locally. They are invincibly perky and cheerful.

(Walking through Eastleigh on an October evening, we stopped, hearing a loud noise of birds in a tree on Market Street. I think they were sparrows roosting, although we could not see them. Apparently when rooks roost, the most prestigious spot is the top. The ones on the bottom run the risk of being splattered with excrement. But I digress.)

The following system of avian classification was developed by a long lost friend and I some 40 years ago. I seem to remember my father adding his analytical touch. Now, I feel, its time has come.

Basically, all birds fall into four species: sparrows, blackbirds, gulls and parrots.

All small birds are sparrows. Wrens are small shy sparrows. Robins are sparrows with red breasts (and aggressive behaviour. Don’t cross them.)

The species ‘blackbird’ includes thrushes (brown blackbirds). Rooks, crows and ravens are all large blackbirds. You can generally tell them by the dull colours.

Anything dwelling on or near water is a gull. Ducks are obviously gulls which sit on the water. Albatrosses are very large gulls.

The species ‘parrot’ covers any large bird that is not a blackbird or gull. A golden eagle… woodpeckers….. a jay. Again, it should generally be obvious. I don’t have the space or time or energy to resurrect the debate as to whether a magpie is a partly albino blackbird or a black and white parrot.

Ignore all those who say there should only be two species: blackbirds and parrots. This over-simplifies the rich variety of bird life. And scoff at those who want to introduce domestic fowls as a fifth category. Hens, turkeys and the like are obviously parrots.

(Anybody who says that all birds are different types of sparrow is just being silly.)


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