Posts Tagged ‘birdsong’

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JustALittleFurther: “We rose extra early to be here to witness Paramaribo’s most unusual pastime … a bird singing competition.”

In Suriname, a country that borders Brazil on the south and the Atlantic Ocean on the north, there’s an unusual sport that only men engage in — from businessmen in suits to tough-guy boxers. It involves songbirds.

Anatoly Kurmanaev reports at the New York Times, “Every Sunday just after dawn, while much of the city sleeps, a group of men gather on the overgrown lawn of a public park in a quiet neighborhood in the capital of Suriname, South America’s smallest country. They huddle together, and hush.

“They have bird cages, each carrying a songbird — a picolet, a twa-twa or a rowti, as the species are known here. Over the next few hours, the men will lean in, silent and focused, and listen to the birds as referees note the duration of each burst of singing, and rate each songster’s performance on a chalk board.

“The audience is engrossed, but wins and losses are greeted by handlers with the same quiet collegiality that has marked the morning.

“Birdsong competitions, a sort of a Battle of the Bands between trained tropical birds, are a national obsession in Suriname. …

“ ‘Some people like football or basketball,’ said Derick Watson, a police officer who, on his days off, helps organize the competitions with a cigar in his mouth. ‘This is our sport. It’s a way of life.’ …

“The yearly bird song championship, which culminates in final rounds that are broadcast on national television in December, draws around a hundred competitors that square off for trophies and a moment of national glory. …

“The most accomplished birds, with renowned stamina, sell in Suriname for up to $15,000, a fortune in the poor former Dutch colony, which gained independence in 1975. But part of the sport’s appeal is that at entry level, it is accessible to anyone, with young untrained birds available for just a few dollars in pet shops.

‘It’s a tradition,’ said Arun Jalimsing, a Surinamese pet shop owner and one of champions of last year’s competition. ‘We grew up with it. When my father gave me money to buy a bicycle, I went and bought a bird.’ …

“Training a songbird requires expertise, but also immense patience and perseverance. To build the birds’ singing endurance, aficionados spend years stimulating them through interaction, regulating their diets and putting them in proximity with female or male partners, according to elaborate training strategies meant to elicit courtship or competitive behavior from each songbird. …

“Suriname is a diverse country, a legacy of the Dutch colonial system, which brought enslaved people and indentured laborers from around the world to work sugar, coffee and banana plantations. … The bird enthusiasts support different political parties and often live in separate, ethnically-defined neighborhoods.

“Suriname’s few decades since independence have been turbulent. … Yet politics, race, class and other differences that have bred confrontations in other arenas seem not to intrude on the collegiality of the songbird owners’ community.

“ ‘Everybody is friends when they come here,’ said Marcel Oostburg, a bird aficionado and a senior official at Suriname’s National Democratic Party, which dominated the country for decades before being ousted in a tense election last year. ‘We never talk politics here.’ ”

More at the New York Times, here.

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