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 ...