Major Plot twist: Living in New Zealand has turned me into an avid bird-watcher and amateur bird-song identifier.
This is a big twist because I do not have an especially positive history of avian/human relations. This is what I had to say for our fine, feathered friends the last time I moved to a new house:
That’s not the nature of my problem. Birds are fine as a concept. I just don’t like things that make uninvited noise (other than, obviously, me). Birds fall into the same offensive category as small dogs, train tracks, and babies.
Based on that assessment, you might be a bit nervous about me moving to a country with a serious stock of birds and where bats are the only native land mammals. Bats!
Yet, I’m living a bird-loving kiwi life. I send chats to E about cool bird songs I hear when she’s not at home and can frequently found browsing Birds of New Zealand to try to identify the ones I spot on our deck or feasting on snails from our garden.
The only way I can explain it is that birds here have beautiful, varied songs. Key word: varied. The birds of Philadelphia didn’t have songs so much as rude catcalls that they screeched repetitively at the top of their birdy lungs.
“CHIRP. CHIRP. CHIRP. MOTHERFUCKING CHIRP.”
They’d all gather around my house starting just after 5am and start their shouting all at once. There was nothing beautiful or remarkable about it. It was like the world’s worst noise machine.
To be fair, those are some of these insistent asshole birds in New Zealand, but I think the other birds must shun them or eat their food or something, because I rarely hear them singing. Maybe it’s simply an evolutionary thing.
Tui are one of the most-common NZ-only birds, and one of the first I started noticing while we were living in our Air BnB house. They possess a double larynx, which gives them an uncannily large range of vocalization. There’s not a lot of repeats on tui radio.
When we we were looking at houses, we met the New Zealand wood pigeon. It is a hilariously, outlandishly large bird, maybe four times the size of the pigeon of the flying rat variety you see back in East Coast urban spaces back in the US. It’s husky, low hoot matches its comedic appearance as well as its rather humorous habits, such as getting drunk enough on fermented berries that they fall out of trees.
There is an even greater variety of birds here at our more permanent home, as we’re not in an urban area and also much higher up. I’d say we hear at least six or seven distinct bird calls each day, at least.
One particularly mysterious bird living in the bushes surrounding our house has such a beautiful call that I crave hearing it. Its bright, trebly tone sweeps down and into a throaty alto and then back up again, with fluttery vibrato throughout. If I notice this mystery bird’s song ringing out I will literally drop what I am doing and rush to a window to try to spot it, to no avail.
What I find most interesting about the situation isn’t the variety of birds or their beautiful calls, but my sudden change of heart about having them all around. It represents a complete shift from what I would have sworn was a make-or-break aspect of a new house just a few months ago – being relatively birdless.
As it turns out, it’s not just brands and habits that change when you move to a new place. Sometimes it’s your whole philosophy on what constitutes noise versus song.