This is a guest article by Viktoria Rother.
That’s what I told my class of adult EAL* learners they had.
Dinosaur eyes watching me and my every move. Hungrily.
I showed them a photograph of a pied currawong.
“Look closely at this bird - those are your eyes,” I informed them, “I fear you. You are just waiting for me to make a mistake and then you will strike!”
While they guffawed, I wrote pied currawong on the board, then the words Australian bird and continued my English lesson.
Yes, they do have the eyes of a dinosaur, our pied currawongs. A hungry, clever, omnivorous, flying dinosaur. With a long, lethal, pointed dagger of a beak. Striking yellow eyes. And black plumage, with that hint of white in the tail feathers, makes them easy to recognise and extremely handsome. Who doesn’t like a well-dressed man? Or woman?
Every evening, from late April to late September, twenty minutes past five o’clock, a sextet of these birds would serenade me from the stately gum tree next door. How beautiful were their voices. How clear. Distinct. Like the finest church bells, I could hear their gloriously regal chorus above the painful, ugly roar of those Harley-Davidson motorcycles screaming along St Kilda Road. I relished every chorus, every day, for four years.
But this year, there’s no chorus. My choir has dwindled to a mere soloist, whose magnificent voice I hear every evening in winter. Yes, every evening. He or she is singularly loyal and reliable; when I hear it, I know it is time to pour myself a glass of wine and cogitate upon what I’ve achieved today, while the currawong flies from St Kilda Road to that glorious gum tree next door to perch and praise the day’s end. Their singing sounds like a celebration; to human ears, how could it be anything else? If you heard it, you too would be seduced by the song.
Do not be deceived: these beautiful birds with voices enticing and mellifluous are killers par excellence. During summer on St Kilda Road, I see them stalking dinner, then eating it on the wisteria vine on level three. That beak of theirs is the perfect eating implement; although omnivorous, they are so admirably adapted to their role in life as predators.
Donizetti, Puccini, and Verdi would envy them their capacity to compose and sing at will the most intricate of arias. Despite their fearsome mien, they remain cleverly wary of me: should I suddenly appear outside, they swiftly, silently and efficiently flee the scene, fluently cursing me as they do with that melodious voice of theirs.
As a scientist by inclination, nature and training – in her final year of a Master of Environmental Management and Sustainability – Viktoria Rother is glad to share her space on St Kilda Road with creatures great, small, silent and musical. And trees. She adores trees.
*English As An Additional Language
Banner image courtesy of Rachel Fetherston.