This brown bird which lives in hedges, or perhaps this bird which lives in brown hedges, or often both, is a master of camouflage and can usually only be seen flying at high speeds between two hedges. This would enable it to evade its enemies if it had any; as it is, not other creature in nature seems at all interested in its existence. Perhaps its evasive behaviour is based on shame as its own drab appearance. It is by far the most common and the most boring bird in Britain, and its song comes to match, being a single toot or tweet, like a clarinettist on lesson one. It is very good at not catching breadcrumbs in mid-air.
Many amateurs still think that when birds sing and hop around, they are being merry and affectionate. They are not, of course: they are being aggressive and demanding the price of a cup of coffee. As, however, human beings are soft at heart and in the head, I suppose we shall go on regarding this thing as a much loved garden bird, even when it beats on the window with its beak and tells you to get that goddam food out on the bird table, or else. It is the equivalent of the Birthday Card Flower.
NB Although not strictly speaking a bird, it is worth noting the existence of that legendary fowl, the Paperback Bird. This family includes all birds beginning with P, such as Penguin, Puffin, Pelican, Kestrel, etc. It is without doubt the most tasteful bird in Britain, being daring sometimes but never going too far. Clad in orange, or green or blue, it feeds off hardback publishers, and is usually harmless – sometimes it runs into difficulties and has to be helped. Even when boring you can’t help liking it and most families keep a few as pets around the house.
Peter Scotts, which always come in flocks of 17,000, can only be seen at dusk outlined against the sunset, which only comes in orange. It only has two parts of the body, the neck and the wings. Its harsh call can best be transcribed as: ‘Paint me, paint me.’
Britain’s only known seabird, it wheels overhead at the seaside uttering harsh caustic comments on the immature state of one’s suntan and the unfashionable nature of one’s swimwear. It flees inland during what it thinks of as bad weather, i.e. when the wind goes over Force One or when waves appear on the calm sea.
No longer able to catch fish, it now feeds off the municipal rubbish dumps and is the only known bird with bad breath. Despite this, it always looks inexplicably pleased with itself.
There is an inland version of this bird which behaves in exactly the same way, but is known as The Great, Big, Black, fat Evil-Eyed Land bird.
Locally called swift, swallow or martin, this is the principal visitor to our shores during the summer and flies overhead at speeds in excess of 300mph, twittering faintly, as well it might. It travels far too fast to be identified, which is how it can be easily identified. Like the much rarer RAF combat plane, which it closely resembles, it disappears at the end of September.
Not normally a resident of Britain, this nondescript creature very occasionally spends a bargain break weekend at Romney Marsh, Blythburgh Estuary and other places over-run by the ubiquitous photographer. Scared by the rough, raucous behaviour of this lesser spotter, it usually cuts its weekend short and flies back to wherever it came from, probably the Observer Magazine.
Carolling joyfully, the invisible songbird sits at the top of a tree and trills a message of pure pleasure. The listener, if he is anything like me, reacts with feelings of happiness, serenity, perplexity, irritation, and finally sheer paranoid fury as he fails to spot the presence of the songster anywhere in the tree. The songbird, which has the unusual ability to throw its voice, is of course in the next tree.
This gaily plumaged bird lives behind the windows of better-class butchers and poulterers in Knightsbridge and other country towns. Hanging in tidy rows, it sheds its feathers after a few days to reveal a scrawny belly containing 7,153 tiny bones, five lead pellets and 11/2 oz of meat. It is not known to make any noise.
A surprisingly common bird which nests in smaller crevices or upper-class crosswords. The most common members of this family are the auk, tern, moa, geld, cob and erne.
Oddly, this family also contains all Britain’s night birds – bat, owl, jar, etc.
The only remaining bird of prey in Britain, the motorway hawk can be seen beside motorways hovering at about forty feet above the hard shoulder. Motionless, apart from its flapping wings, it has its steely eyes fixed on some hapless prey in the grass below. Relentlessly it focuses all its will on the target. Inevitably, the hapless prey spots the wildly flapping wings and slips away laughing to itself. Disappointed, the hawk sideslips and starts hovering again. Lord knows when it ever gets to eat.
Many drivers on motorways find the sight of the hovering bird a fascinating one and, transfixed, drive gently through the central reservation and out the other side.
Nature Made Ridiculously Simple 1983