Thursday, July 27, 2006

Betting on Birds


Driving along the sparsely settled northeast coast of Trinidad, I kept passing guys walking along the side of the road carrying birds in cages. Trinidad has the highest density of bird species in the world -- 424 species per 1,000 square miles, compared to Costa Rica, a distant second, with 45 species per etc. Birds are everywhere. Beautiful birds of every color, 17 species of hummingbirds alone.

I stopped and chatted with Randolph (above) who was snacking on a Zadaki mango and carrying a bull finch in the cage.

"Dis is for the da bird-whistling contest, mon."

The bird whistling contest?"

"Yah, mon. Dat's what folks do around here. Dey train a bird to sing and then they bet it can sing longer than anyone else's bird. Man can make a lot of money with a bird that can sing a long time."

Randolph paid the equivalent of $US 75 for his bull finch, but if it proves to be a champion singer, he expects to sell it for as much as $1,000. He trains it by playing it tapes of bird songs and by carrying it with him everywhere he goes so it will feel comfortable around people.

On weekends, men gather on the beach with their birds and place bets on whose bird can sing the longest. Then two birds square off against each other. The first bird who stops singing is the loser.

"When your bird sings long and loud, it make you feel so proud," says Randolph.

How long does such a contest last?

"Oh, it can go on all afternoon, mon. For hours and hours. You just hang the cages up in the tree, bet your money, drink a little rum, sit back and listen to the birds sing. "

Yes, this is why I love the islands ...

10 comments:

Rum Runner said...

That's the kind of stuff that makes it even harder to be sitting at a desk just reading about it, I am envious Bob! I'm going to the pet store when I get out of work today and find me a bird, Trinidad here I come!

Julia Buckley said...

And yet, it's kind of an existential nightmare, from the bird's point of view. :)

Bob said...

Oh no, not a nightmare at all. They are divas. They get good food, safety from predators, and a loving audience...

But yeah, there is that cage...

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Kristy said...

I'm SO freakin' going to Trinidad! This must make it into the book (or I'll totally steal it...).

Bob said...

While I'm still percolating the plot of TRINIDADDY-O, I think it's safe to say that there might be reference to a bird-whistling competition...it's just too rich to leave out, eh?

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Lori said...

Hi Bob! My husband and I are expats here in Trinidad and were at Maracas today. There was a guy with a bird in a cage and my husband started asking him questions. We have often wondered why some men carry birds in cages. After we got home, I told my husband to google "men who carry bird cages in Trinidad", and we found your blog. Enjoyed it very much! Hope your book about Trinidad is coming along well. I will be looking forward to reading it! I referred to your blog on my blog in my latest post. Cheers! Lori in T&T.