King of the trees,
you fly too high for me.
I want to ask,
what is the point?
Why wear a golden crown none can see,
except, perhaps, one with a keen marauding eye
whose heart leaps with that glint
and thinks he will be rich,
but dare not make the plunge into the leaves?
Also your song,
if one can call it that,
so thin and shrill
become too high for me.
Can frogs fly?
In some ways, yes,
in some ways, no.
in that damp gullet
slow to die.
But even if they get a place beneath the wings
(which they will surely do)
will not look out.
Their sleepy eyes
will not admire the view,
the fields passing slow beneath;
there are no windows
and their eyes
do not see pictures,
though they had never seen that sure fast strike.
And now the feet descend
the dancing landing gear
the shifting cargo
rocking left and right;
For all their navigation skills
pigeons do not seem to understand horizons,
but appear to leap up over any skyline,
be it trees or roof-
for all the world like penguins
that pop out on to ice-
Maybe they are surfing waves invisible to us
and soar until they stall;
until the clay has lost its fire
but rekindles in the fall.
not geared for slow flight,
meet your daily needs;
one or two songbirds
silenced between the trees.
But you might have been wiser
to keep up your quartering in wild
places and not haunt these suburban wastes
where bird tables are often visible through plate
glass and you approaching at break-
Issac Newton could not have known
a woodpecker drumming on a hollow tree
and presented his law of reaction and action,
but instead invented the whistle with the pea
rattling inside like a bird's brain in its skull.
Also that strange drooping flight,
like an apple at ebb on the lazy tide of a fast stream,
might or might not have helped him discover
the laws of motion.
The male bird of paradise
is an explosion of passion;
a tropical storm,
but who is that passion burning for,
a drab companion,
or the mirror of his soul,
that he can look into
and see himself,
and she can look out
and see him?
Once inhabiting North America and considered to be the most abundant bird on earth, the passenger pigeon was brought to extinction within less than a century by a massive hunting programme and failure to understand its breeding rituals. The last surviving individual, a female called Martha died in Cincinnati Zoo on the first day of September 1914.
Martha, last of your race,
have you not considered parthenogenesis?
Then becoming an hermaphrodite,
like Aphrodite, rise,
uncovering man’s shame.
Your flowing locks stream out,
darken the light
and fill the sky with sound
for days on end.
But you might say,
Why bother? You
will only do again
what you have done.
And so decide instead
on the first of September
The hoopoe is a rare summer visitor to southern Britain. A most distinguished and elegant bird, although the plumage is quite drab and the song unremarkable.
If I had my time over again
I would choose to be born at the northern limit
of the range
of the hoopoe.
This is where the best champagne is made,
the hoopoe is to other birds
as champagne to wine,
although its song many be no more exciting
than the popping of a champagne cork.
were I ever to celebrate winning at Le Mans,
I would prefer to release a cage or two of hoopoes
than spray a dire waste of champagne
all over the place.
At work in the area now.
They appear near Christmas Eve,
(and other times)
flitting from branch to branch.
Attending to trees
is what they do.
A group of six or more,
and then moving on,
and never a hope to call them back
or a chance to check a job well done,
with a guarantee of swift return,
or ask them where they pay their tax.
The flight of the V1
to say the least,
buzzing its way out
until the engine
then the tilt
for the silent
I had seen buzzards circling overhead,
though never yet descending with intent,
as though they lived on air,
until in early morning mist,
saw one perched upon a post,
Then glided to the grass to lie with wings outstretched,
as though, seeing a friend,
had floated down to whisper secrets in his ear;
now lumbered up,
a corpse between its claws,
an angled body,
broken by a word.
There is nothing,
that you can say about a tree-
So why bother?
Because it compels me.
is not what you might best call
the steps of a small bird
on a brown trunk,
moving up by the whole tones
of a stopped string
with an unseen turn
and starting again,
on a different line,
A skewed symmetry
like the introduction to Beethoven's seventh symphony.
Then, when at last it reaches a suitable height,
where it might care to rest,
Resembling formless tracts of ancient script,
those lifelines written out in summer sky,
each spot a living mote.
What stone is there to spell that soundless speech,
or seek out meaning with its hidden key?
Then concentrating all from start to end,
a word appears;
a screeching swarm of words in endless chase,
gliding and sweeping past those ageless walls,
tempered by evening heat and scented vines.
But unlike other tongues,
whose sense is clear, though not their sounds,
we know the form of this symbolic speech,
what it is based upon
and how pronounced.
Johannes Brahms’ brother Fritz, also a musician, was known in his native Hamburg as’ the wrong Brahms’.
I hate to say this
and it grieves me to do so,
but you are a wrong ‘un!
Were it not for
your famous brother
Were it not for
your famous brother,
everyone would take you
for what you are,
singing your pleading notes
in high places
or even know your name,
were it not for
your famous brother.
In past times red kites were abundant in London and other lowland cities. Protected birds, valued as scavengers they were said to swoop down unheard by their victims and remove hats, handkerchiefs and even hairpieces.
So, you have come back then,
most rapacious bird!
One of the worst
and urban too,
an urban thug.
if half of what they said were true.
In the good,
or is it bad,
you lined your nest with underwear
and had a reputation for hat or hairpiece stealing,
scooping from the pate in silent swoop.
How could you do it?
Handkerchiefs in use
snatched while the sneeze matured,
condemning to release in flight
the cluster bomblet spray.
Bless all of us!
And yet, unanchored bungee jumper,
your elasticated sweep does thrill;
it takes the breath away,
and for a bird that dives to perigee beneath the clothesline
making off with ladies so-
you have done well,
indeed you are the best-
that symmetry of white
clipped to your wings
as old transvestite habits re-
I saw a heron land,
then gradually advance toward the pool.
The body, streaked with black,
quivered on mincing legs,
but the head, most remarkable,
was absolutely still;
the movement beneath it focused
on this fixed point.
There is no doubt it did advance,
but from its view
the world moved.
but not suddenly,
as though it had been
moving all the time
and the stillness only an illusion,
Today two swallows came;
one clutched the wall, one perched.
a pair whose love was theirs alone.
A higher social class,
(one does not ask)
their word their bond,
but would it be withheld?
We had not advertised,
were not prepared.
I should have liked to say,
‘Here is water;
these old pots
are just about to go;
we don’t keep cats,’
but they arrived too soon,
there was no time.
To see this and to know
what will take place,
you have to become land-
as some are.
Then you will find a band of white
and merges with the gull's cry.
This is a rasping, sawing sound
like a snail's tongue eating the land away.
But that is not all.
We cannot tell how it will end.
Can the gulls, that float on the wind and turn
facing back, get their will? Does it ever concern them
that, as they fly, the necklace contracts? Do they care
that behind them,
the land like a pin-
and one whose sharp thorns
because each defends an irregular area
and they are, as I said before, fenced-
like a honey-
that land falls into the sea?
Once you were common,
appearing on the face of the farthing.
In those days
four farthings made one penny,
that is, one d,
and that tells us immediately
what you were worth then
and what you are worth now.
They do say that you are,
even more common,
but I don’t see how that can be,
because the little children do not know you any more
and you will not stay
for me to be sure it is you,
now that I do not recognise your song.
Maybe I never did,
even though your sound-
is thought to be the greatest in the whole bird kingdom.
The hedge sparrow, although very common, is inconspicuous and often described as unassuming. Apparently monogamous, the female seems to encourage illicit attentions of neighbouring males. In Britain it is one of the four major hosts of the cuckoo.
I don’t mean to pry
but I can’t take my eyes from you,
neat and petite in your workaday suit,
because something of what you must be
has begun to get through to me.
Unlike some in the street, you never
come back from abroad with élan.
Your song is not sweet and indeed
your spring cleaning, if that’s what it is,
takes so much of your time
we can’t stop for a word.
Demeanour is all that you have,
but your air of insouciance,
has, as I think you must know,
begun to get through.
Hedging your bets, yes you!
Don’t deny it, that you have been seen
or just coming back from goodness knows what,
but leaving me out.
Can you not see, your apparent insouciance
has begun to get through;
am estranged from your game plan.
unlike, for example, the one
who makes such a loud song about
what he has got.
But watch out!
He is sure to discover your ways,
and I fear that he will put one over on you
and then when he does
you will not
even try to explain,
but just get along
with whatever it is
that you take for your lot..
No other bird contrives
to make flying uphill
seem so like the hard work that it must be.
A heavy airplane in its ponderous climb,
or an oarsman rowing upstream,
bright eyes fixed in an empty stare.
And no other bird conveys such tangible relief
when the way
starts to go down.
How well Monet knew that snow, sun and a magpie
formed a rare triple conjunction.
If you have a magpie sitting in a tree, or on a fence,
what you do not have
is any collection of atoms,
but the difference between iron and steel.
Compare it with the family of jackdaws.
They are tame;
they do not fly in straight lines
They would reply, if asked,
‘Did we say that?
well if we did, I don't think we meant it.’
Looking at it another way; the magpie
prefers to intercept any jackdaw
than fly down
to whatever was thrown to attract its attention.
Monet undoubtedly knew this,
but he also saw that the light of the snow in the sun
would be less vivid without it,
and what we have seen, at least
enables us to discuss the issue
of whether the magpie is white
with the lightness of white on black
or whether the sun's rays, robbed of their steely blue,
are bathing the snow with a pink, delicate fire.
Almost without warning
a pigeon thumped against the windscreen.
we first feared for ourselves,
but, at the same time,
failed to see why
a creature of air
should solidify so suddenly,
then fall away to die.
After Norman MacCaig / G. M. Hopkins.
Oh Norman, how should I presume to question you?
Your ‘frogs’ leap out;
sit silent on the page,
but pigeons, each descending to a slanting ledge, or rooftop,
after days of easy picking,
are these your ‘wobbling gyroscopes’
your hosts of lust?
‘Oh my Chevalier’
restless, pulling at its beak,
not a gash to bring forth flame and blood and passion
in which hope could be reborn,
instead a mounting, tired and unenthusiastic,
quickly done, then
no ‘thank you ma’am.’
No playboy of the western world,
worthy of his hire.
we had observed a breed
unknown to you;
tired after an uninspiring day at the office.
The wood pigeon is one of our most successful breeding birds, either despite or because is appears to spend so little effort in designing and building its nest, which appears, from beneath, to be an open unsuitable structure for incubating eggs. It is a strange fact that neither the eggs nor the young are visible from beneath until the ‘squabs’ are almost the size of their parents, when they can be seen feeding by plunging their elongated bills deep into the parent bird’s gullet.
Call that a nest,
that flat untidy platform!
Have millions of years of evolution
taught you nothing!
You can’t fool me though,
with your twig-
Eggs, if they appeared,
would roll away,
but thankfully you haven’t laid them yet,
so, don’t expect me to believe your
I told you,
‘It could neither keep things in nor out’
and I was right;
so now that these two unkempt
almost as big as you,
have just appeared
their one aim
seems to be
taking the very bread
out of your mouth.
In the Loro Park in Tenerife
Do parrots know despair,
or like some favoured uncle or exotic aunt,
whose duty is to visit us on Christmas Day
or birthday times,
or both, and entertain,
are they always filled with inner radiance,
or pain, even though each movement says,
here humour overflows?
Yet is this is only how they sense their loss,
the light extinguished when they come to Mulla's shore,
that name contrived to match
the unexciting breaking of our seas,
or to convey the sense of something
altogether grand and ancient.
Place of Britain's biggest,
therefore most extinct,
we cannot see its fires now,
yet when they burnt, so also did the sun.
Palms lined the shores
and parrots flew.
Now we have found a place where they still live
chained to each dismal perch,
or caged or flying free,
making us ask,
what lights can burn?
Does parrot fever rage within their skulls
and do they think,
what other birds will fly
and can they see the Southern Cross from here?
Tell me again,
what muted tongues are these?
The Parrot, by Thomas Campbell, is a wonderful poem about an apparently true event. A parrot from the Caribbean languishes in its cage in Britain (Mulla) until many years later it hears a Spanish voice and, after a paroxysm of excitement, falls dead in its cage.
Seven notes of the eight note song of the yellowhammer appear to dominate the slow movement of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony. In 1823, on a walk with his notoriously unreliable companion, Anton Schindler, Beethoven is reported to have said "Here I have written the scene by the brook and the yellow-
Yellowhammers spread the tablecloth of summer,
the slowest movement
of a pastoral symphony.
But my German is not very good
and all I hear is
‘little bit of bread and no’
repeated over and over.
Was he deaf,
or am I dreaming,
Why no cheese?
(Birdwatching for the hard of hearing