In Praise of Birds

As much as we love our picture book on the beautiful birds of Nigeria, it is a joy to hear that some of our readers adore Birds Of Our Land just as much.  We just received this email from a fan of the book which we’d like to share with you:


Birds Of Our Land is an extremely useful book. My children hardly know the name of any bird in their mother tongue. I'm sure it's the same with most Nigerian kids nowadays, especially the ones brought up in Lagos, Abuja and other cities.

Just last night, after dinner, my eight year-old daughters were poring over the pages of Birds of West Africa and for the umpteenth time laughed over the names of "secretary bird" and "plantain eater", just like their older brothers had done before them.

Birds of West Africa, Birds of Britain and other basic ornithological books are good to have. Well done, Cassava Republic. I have added your book to the bird book collection in my library.

My kids and I built a bird table last year, and started bird-watching in the garden, here in Abuja. We refer to Birds of West Africa often as we watch our avian visitors, astonished to see the wide range of native and migratory birds that come and go by the season. So, your book, with all the local names is a jolly good idea.

I once had over 300 birds in my garden in Kaduna. All of them came from the Hadeijia-Nguru Wetlands. Dozens and dozens of species.  It’s a lot easier to keep an aviary, if you love birds, than go bird-watching. But then, a lot of people will think you cuckoo (no pun intended). Others may say you are trying to be oyibo. They claim that real Africans eat birds, not look at them.

But the major problem with having an aviary is adequately caring for the birds. My late father told me many times that a human being should consider bird restriction as the equivalent of forced imprisonment of a fellow human being. Islam also totally prohibits cruelty to animals. It can take you to hell.

Allow me to tell you this story, to illustrate my point. One day my main supplier from Gwaram, in Jigawa State, arrived Kaduna around noon, bringing me a young raptor (a kestrel) that had been caught very early that morning. It was a beautiful, proud young kestrel, which we had to keep in its cage, as it would otherwise run away, killing many birds, before leaving. We also had to feed it very fresh meat, as most raptors do not eat meat that isn't fresh. So, we slaughtered a rabbit and took the skinned fresh meat to the kestrel in its cage. We met a very proud, regal (wallahi, as regal as any king, in its poise and facial expression) but angry kestrel. He was so visibly angry, it was unbelievable. It was just like the face of a human being. His posture was powerfully expressive, imperial and indignant.

We deposited the fresh meat and left the bird on its own. We went back several times to check, each time finding that it had refused to eat the meat. We understood that it preferred to hunt its own meat. I foolishly thought that if it got hungrier, it might go ahead and eat. Each time I went back to the cage, this king transfixed me with a very angry royal glare. Wallahi, it was so human. Yet this bird was half the size of a domestic rooster.

By the time I made my last check, around 6.30pm, I found my young friend dead in the cage, with the fresh rabbit meat still untouched. May God forgive me! Our proud royal bird had committed suicide, which he decided was more honourable than captivity. I was totally overcome with guilt and pity, which lasted a long time.

That royal suicide reinforced what my father had told me about keeping birds in captivity. In penance, on my return to Lagos the following Monday, I went straight home from the airport, before going to the office, to release my parrot (aiyekoto, aku) and two parakeets. I also had all the birds at home in Kaduna released. I tried, in vain, to convince my late mentor in bird care, to release all the captives in the huge aviary in his Victoria Island house. I thereafter stuck to watching David Attenborough documentaries on birds, as well as listening to BBC cassettes of bird recordings. That was twenty years ago. Now we have Birdsongs Radio, which plays bird songs 24/7. I recommend the station to all. I listen to it, everyday.

Experience tells me that children will love these books. They can sit and pore over them for hours. In the process, they memorise and internalise a lot of avian facts and information. They also get to learn about nature and conservation.

Thank you, Cassava Republic, for producing this book. And may God forgive me on that kestrel that committed suicide, amin. Never, again!

From a keen lover of birds.


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