Snack Birds

I have returned from a trip to Hawaii with my spouse Samara “Don’t fall off, you’ll spoil the holiday” Leibowitz.

We’ve become interested in natural history so, among other things, we went to Hawaii to look at its fairly unique animal life.

We saw humpback whales rising from the Pacific like rubbery islets; green turtles sunning themselves on the shores; and parrot fish shitting out their little skeins of rubble.

My favourite animal, however, was rather more common and could be found scattered chaotically over the lowlands like someone had upset a box of plastic skittles.

Meet the zebra dove: a miniature grey pigeon with a brain the size of a bogey.

Zebra doves are the most consistently baffled animals I’ve ever met. Their whole raison d’etre seems to be to bibble about idiotically, narrowly avoiding death like Stan Laurel on a construction site.

On one occasion, as we were hiking in a volcanic crater called Diamond Head, a zebra dove emerged from a thicket and ran closely around Samara’s marching feet like a penny around a magician’s fingers.

I watched the event unfold, heart in mouth. The dove seemed completely unaware of the danger, yet somehow dodged the falling boots for two figure-eight laps before retreating pointlessly into the thicket.

I do not know how zebra doves are so numerous in Hawaii, for they seem so terminally puddled and forever pootling into the path of doom.

It cannot help their survival prospects, moreover, that they happen to look exactly like a chicken drumstick.

Even I, a committed vegetarian, frequently felt the urge to grab one of these feathered morons and shove it in my gob.

The zebra dove must have been at the back of the queue when Nature was handing out the attributes. Nature, dividing up the groups like an enthusiastic grammar school PE teacher must have said, “Right, you chaps are Peregrine Falcons so your job is to be glamorous and deadly. You lot over there are Barn Owls, aloof and mysterious. Now you fellas…”

The zebra dove looks to Nature with gloopy-eyed expectation.

“You fellas… Hmm. Well, you have the most important job of all!”

“What’s that then?”

“Why, you get to be snacks.”


“Yes, snacks. You’re the snack birds.”

“Me?” says the snack bird looking behind him for the real target and looking more conspicuously like a chicken drumstick than ever before. “You’ve got to be kidding. The cuckoos get polygamy. The magpies get jewelry and a Saturday morning television programme. I get to be snack birds?”

“Yes,” says Nature, “snack birds. Nothing wrong with snack birds. Look at the Turkey.”

“No way, mate,” says the Turkey, basting itself with glee, “I’m special. I’m Christmas Dinner.”

“Yes,” says the zebra dove, “He’s Christmas Dinner. You want me to be the snacks? Like Pringles?”

Somewhere at the back of the room, a stately bald eagle hollers “Oh, do stop squawking and get on with it.”

“Yes!” says a budgerigar, already salivating at the prospect of unlimited millet, “get on with it.”

“Snack Birds?” says the zebra dove and feeling pressure from all quarters accepts its fate and gets, as they suggest, on with it.

Having said such insulting things about the zebra dove today, one must admire the fact that it so flourishes against the odds. I also found them to be surprisingly sprightly when I tried to get a half-decent photograph to accompany this diary entry. They’re extremely camera shy and, after spending half an hour of my last precious Hawaiian day chasing an idiot zebra dove around a park, I couldn’t get him to show his face to the camera. The nincompoop.


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