Saturday, May 25

Capturing music on wings

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MOST people love music. Curiously, we are born with a fondness for rhythmic beats, including beautiful sounds from the wild – and, yes, the sky as well. That, perhaps, explains how the hobby of capturing song birds came to be.

One avian species which bird catchers are sometimes seen setting traps to capture around Kuching City is the Zebra Dove or Burung Terkukur in Malay.

These birds are commonly spotted in urban areas which are safe for them due to the absence of natural predators. Never mind the few stray cats that may be lurking around.

A captured male zebra dove.

They are comparatively easier to handle as long as the doves keep an eye out for the stealthy feline ambushers.

Another reason the doves find it easier to survive among human habitats is that food crumbs are always available.

One morning, thesundaypost met two bird catchers at Taman Riveria, Kuching-Samarahan Expressway. They belong to the Borneo Terkukur Merbuk, a hobby club comprising members from different races and ages.

Sliding the captured dove into a pouch.

The two were setting a trap on an open lawn by the roadside for what they called mericik burung (catching birds). The trap is a very simple device made of a fine soft string with loops along the length of it as the snares. The string is held to the ground by pegs and attached with a weight at the end of it called tumang or anchor.

A male dove was then placed at a suitable spot on the lawn. This decoy bird, called genak by Rosli, one of the catchers, was brought in a specially designed cage, known as catok, to lure other males. The bird was kept on the ground with one leg tied to a peg with a string. The snare was set a short distance away.

Rosli with his first catch of the day.

The catchers then waited for the bait-bird to make its territorial call. It maybe music to our ears but as Rosli explained, to the dominant male of the same territory, it would sound like an invitation to a duel.

“The dominant male will take the stranger’s call as a declaration to stake a territorial claim,” he explained.

The call of the bait-bird, challenging the supremacy of the alpha male, would draw the latter down to the ground to investigate and deal with the ‘interloper’. As the alpha male, with hackles raised, strutted in to confront the decoy bird, bent on showing the audacious ‘pretender’ who is the boss, one of its legs would get snared by the loop. That’s how a bird gets caught.

Rosli said it was pretty certain the trapped dove would be a male that ruled the roost in any one area.

According to him, the dominant male will jealously guard the females of his territory.

The call it makes every now and then from nearby trees is a warning to other males to stay out.

Tumang or the anchor for holding down the bait-bird.

Trapping spots

Places suitable for trapping Zebra Doves are open spaces, preferably newly-mowed lawns with nearby trees. Flat open spaces are ideal for setting traps because the decoy bird, tied to the ground, can be easily spotted. Usually, other doves will hang around trees close to the lawns. Dominant males are most likely among them.

Once the dominant male of a given territory is captured and removed, the area is left fallow for a month or two before a new male takes over.

“So there’s no such thing as catching one bird today and coming back tomorrow to catch more,” Rosli pointed out.

According to him, catching zebra doves is mostly a hobby. That’s why there’s even a club with some 80 members, all zebra dove fanciers – either catchers or keepers.

Rosli said usually, he would keep and tame the trapped birds first.

“It may take a few days to a few months to see if the birds will sing. The birds have different characters. In captivity, some take longer to sing again while some sing happily after a short while.”

There are also those which rarely sing or are too shy to sing at all.

Rosli said the ‘quiet’ birds were usually sold to people who would set them free, believing that releasing birds or any animals back to their natural habitats is a kind deed that would bring them good blessings.

He pointed out that good singers were in high demand from bird hobbyists.

“A singing dove can fetch between a few hundred to a few thousand ringgit. Enthusiasts are so immersed in this past time that they even organise dove singing contests and winners get trophies or good prizes.”

In Kuching, the usual venues for bird singing contests are at Kampung Melayu, Muara Tuang, Samarahan, or the MBKS Park at Bintawa.

The criteria for picking the winners are based on the various patterns of melodies.

The emblem of Borneo Terkuku Merbuk Club.

Different patterns have different names which only the experts know how to differentiate and categorise.

The names include satu kuk, dua kuk, dua kuk gantung, seladang, and seladang gantung.

Rosli said a slight inflection in the rhythm was enough to make a particular bird song different.

“It’s what makes this music from the sky a very valuable sound to capture, making it a very interesting and absorbing hobby,” he added.