Breakfast flight

A number of my friends are bird watchers. They spend hours lying on their tummies with binoculars glued to their eyes, or else they hide in ``hides'' with cameras fixed into peepholes. Now, I can see it is fun to be able to identify a bird, to claim (in a whisper, of course) ``Look! a bunting!'' or ``Psst! Isn't that a lesser crested warbler?'' because it makes you feel so clever. But up to a few years ago I thought bird watching a fairly boring occupation.

I mean, I knew birds flew, and that some of them ran, and some of them hopped, and some of them waddled. I also knew they made nests, and had frequently noted them whizzing by with straw and grass and feathers and old bits of toffee paper in their beaks. I also knew they sang, which was usually very pretty but didn't merit hiding behind a tree the whole of a hot afternoon.

However, when I was visiting Switzerland a few summers ago, I learned that birds, like everyone else, have personalities. My bedroom in the hotel had long windows leading on to a balcony, and every morning, when I was having my breakfast - they make the most gorgeous black cherry jam in Switzerland and have the best hot croissants in the world - a number of birds would hop in to pick up the crumbs.

Most of them were sparrows, which are not basically very interesting birds, but which, to my amazement, not only looked different from one another, but also had different characters. The ones which were the bravest and came farthest into the room were the thin, pale, slightly knock-kneed lot, while the ones which hopped about on the fringes of my breakfast, so to speak, were the fatter, darker variety. They were the ones which made a lot of noise, sticking out their chests and bragging about something, but it was the meek ones which were the most trusting.

I was just beginning to realize how like people they were and how nice it was to know that modesty and good manners always got you where you wanted to be, when suddenly a bullfinch flew in the window, landed happily in the very middle of my plate, threw a few bits of cherry jam over its shoulder, ate half a roll in a businesslike manner, skidded up on the butter, and flew out again.

I was shocked to the core. Such cheek! Not that I would have wanted him to beg for his breakfast, but I do think he should have asked. But there you are: He was a definite personality, a cheerful, cocksure, brash, do-it-first-ask-questions-later sort of bird. Just like a cousin of mine.

So now I know why bird watchers watch birds. Because they are so like people.

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