The Wisdom of Birds

Aug 31, 2009
*Special to asia!

Knowing no borders, birds are the most well-travelled animals on this planet. Imagine the stories they could tell us if we just took a moment to listen.

Amidst the sounds of engines, grinders, car horns, the air brakes of buses, the sound of polyester soles being dragged on the concrete by lazy feet, the clunking of keys, the muttering of voices, and the background melody from the malls that guard Orchard Road, the call of a lonely bird emanates from within the branches of a Flame of the Forest (Delonix regia) - a tree imported introduced from Africa.

I cannot see the bird, but I feel its call reverberate against the Perspex windows and granite walls of the malls. I wonder what it's calling out to and if its frequency of calls, its pitch and its purpose would be altered if it were in a less urban habitat.

I wonder if the people that stroll, goggle-eyed, along these streets hear it too. And if they do, do they empathise with the strain of its call. Is it a nestling or a fledgling? Something about its call tells me it's not an adult bird. It waits for one of its kin to respond. How far have its parents wandered in search of food?

In the clean streets of Singapore's Orchard Road, what nutritious morsel is there left on the street for a hungry bird? Despite its name, the trees along Orchard Road bear no fruit. Instead, the thick leathery, sword-like pods of the Flame of the Forest are swept up and cleared within one sunrise and the other. There is not a single dried leaf withering on the pavement. And the leaves, should they eventually fall, need to ne swept up anyway because there are no beetles or worms to profit from their decay.

The latest and most celebrated development on the street called Ion Orchard claims the inspiration for its design is due to nature, but apart from its souless, gray-coloured, plastic beams that resemble the branches of trees, I find nothing else of its form that may be derived from the beauty, complexities and calmness of nature.

The glowing, neon diodes at the edge of every one of the building's square windows are jarring when they shine and flicker in the darkness of night. Perhaps that's why people are always drawn to the mall - because they'd be blinded if they stayed outside.

I continue to look up into the trees, a welcome figure within this concrete reality. Its calls have become more strained and frequent. I still cannot spy its shape within the foliage.

If it dies, how soon after will we hear another bird call in this landscape?

debby ngDebby Ng forayed into journalism following failed attempts at becoming a world-class equestrian. A wildlife crime investigator, underwater photographer, dive master and founder of a marine conservation organisation, she spends what remains of her time writing about the environment, its wildlife, and its people.

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