Our Feathered Friends
By “Awake!” correspondent in South Africa
Birds sometimes pick unusual places in which to live. One such place is situated on the famous South African Reef near Johannesburg. It is only a few miles from the country’s main international airport, with jet planes thundering overhead. It lies in a busy, industrial area and is almost surrounded by factories. It is the grounds of the Watch Tower Society’s office, printing factory and Bethel home for volunteer workers in South Africa.
Indeed, this area hardly sounds like a suitable place for a birds, does it? But on these grounds there are no cats, no boys with slings, no men with guns. And there are several features that birds enjoy—a lawn, plenty of shrubs and flowers and a beautiful fishpond with lilies. Moreover, tall poplars and a row of high, sturdy acacia trees provide fine roosting and nesting places for the local feathered population.
By Way of Introduction
Let me introduce you to some of our colorful, winged friends. Meet Willie, the weaverbird—a handsome little fellow! His head, chest and underparts are a bright yellow and his mantle is yellowish green streaked with brown, On his face, Willie wears a striking black mask. In fact, officially he is known as the masked weaver, a type of finch. And what a cheerful character! He sings his gay, sizzling song almost all day long.
Then we have our bokmakieries, a type of shrike. But they are very different from the common shrike or butcher-bird. Both Mr. and Mrs. have a light-yellow chest and underparts, with brownish-green back and wings. They wear a smart, black “bow tie” around the neck. From their throats come the most melodious notes and varied calls. For that matter, the bokmakieries are famous for their vocal duets. He sings a little phrase and she comes back with a different one. Their very tuneful songs can make early morning rising a little easier.
Pigeons and doves are very plentiful in South Africa. Their gentle cooing is a typical and delightful feature of the countryside. We at Bethel enjoy their presence too. Especially charming are the laughing doves, with their dainty appearance and soft call “cooroocoo-co-coo-coo.” Very soothing indeed!
Also much appreciated by the Bethel family are the Cape wagtails with their smart black-and-white pattern of plumage. We enjoy their cheerful whistle and sweet canary-like song. They are friendly little birds and have been with us for many years. Of course, those aggressive little house sparrows are here as well and add their excited twittering to the early morning bird chorus.
Yet do these feathered friends actually make nests and bring up families here? Yes, they do. But first hear the rather sad story of Willie the weaver. Interestingly, the male of this species builds the nest. And it is quite a nest! Using tough grass, he ties two or three overhanging twigs or shoots together, and then weaves a round, compact structure with the opening underneath. To enter it, the little birds have to do some aerial acrobatics in order to land at the entrance upside down!
Now, with the nest completed, comes the crucial moment. Mrs. Weaver-to-be is invited to make an inspection. According to an expert on bird life in South Africa, the main reason that a female masked weaver rejects a nest is that she is not ready to lay eggs. If she accepts, before long there will be eggs and, later, babies to be fed. What an interesting sight is a colony of these round grass nests! There they are swaying gently in the breeze, with busy parents flying in and out.
Willie, however, was a pioneer, trying to start a new colony. It was fascinating to watch him build his first nest. Then came the great moment of inspection. What a shame! After a brief visit, his lady friend just flew away. Poor Willie! Following the usual behavior pattern of the species, he dismantled the whole nest, piece by piece. For the next day or two he was very quiet. But optimism prevailed and he tried again. Another failure!
No less than seven times in his first season, Willie built nest after nest. Each time a female came to inspect his beakwork, Willie was just a bundle of nerves! While the lady made her checkup in a cool businesslike manner, he would fly from branch to branch or perch with wings fluttering, not knowing how to contain himself.
During his second season Willie already has made more unsuccessful attempts. As yet, there is no weaverbird colony. Poor Willie must think that females are difficult creatures! Nevertheless, he provides considerable entertainment for the members of the Bethel staff who live near his planned nesting site.
In contrast, many of our feathered friends have successfully reared their families in the Bethel grounds. The bokmakieries have furtively made nests and fed their babies in a thick hedge near the fishpond. Now and then we see young doves in the garden. They look so gentle and tame, flying away only when one comes very near. The sparrows usually make their untidy nests in the crossbars of the electric poles in the front, unaffected by the noisy traffic passing below. It is quite a sight to observe them feeding their fledglings on the front lawn. With a pampered air, the young ones flutter their wings helplessly, waiting for Papa and Mamma to pop tidbits into their beaks.
Lately, the Bethel staff has increased considerably. A large extension to the building is being constructed to keep pace with the expansion of the Kingdom-preaching work. With the regular members and volunteer builders, the Bethel family now numbers about 180. We all look upon Bethel as an oasis of peace, security and happiness in the midst of a world wracked with fears and dangers. Apparently, the birds like these environs too. We are happy to have them with us. Our feathered friends give us a little foreglimpse of that day, now so near, when God will bless mankind with peace as well as complete harmony with birds and beasts.