Friday 7th September, 2007


Why the caged birds sing

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Bird lovers look at a bullfinch.


IS a bird worth more in hand, than in the bush?

Lovers of bullfinches certainly seem to think so. In the past decade there has been a growing demand for bullfinches by individuals who rear these birds firstly for the sweet notes they belt out at morning time; and to take part in the numerous bird-singing competitions taking place in south, central and east Trinidad.

On August 26, Reyaz “Alfie” Hosein, manager of Alfie’s Pet Shop at Warrenville, Cunupia, staged the area’s first major bird-singing competition. It saw competitors coming from as far as Point Fortin, Mayaro and Sangre Grande to the central venue to compete for trophies and prizes. Scores of “birdmen,” as they are fondly called, treaded on the muddy patch of land known as the Stalagnite Recreation Ground to have their birds face off.

Hosein said the sport, commonly known as “coot bulling,” has been growing in popularity among the younger generation, having for decades attracted a cadre of elderly and middle-aged aficionados.

ACP Philip Carmona shows off his bullfinch

In competitions like these birds are placed in cages three to five feet apart, depending on their level of maturity. The bird that sings the most rolls or songs, wins.

The competition takes an experienced ear to judge and is done in the presence of the owners and an individual known as an “objector” who pays close attention to which bird first starts the whistling sequence and checks the number of rolls sung by the birds for 15 minutes.

Hosein said the bullfinch remains the bird of choice followed by picoplats and canaries. He said the T&T bullfinch is bigger and rarer than its Venezuelan counterpart and fetches $500 for a wild bird compared to the $200 price tag for its South American relative. He said the local variety sings better but is hard to find.

The value of the bird skyrockets as its singing ability increases. Top birds can fetch prices between $2,000 to $10,000. Some birdmen said they keep their best singers indoors, away from bandits.

Getting into bird training is easy, says Hosein. The minimum start-up of cage, feed and bird can cost around $500. He said birds are trained using a CD recording; however, most birdmen take their birds to “shy. “

This is a process where cages are lined up next to each other on savannahs or other quiet places where the inexperienced singer can mimic the notes from a seasoned bird. Hosein said birds have varying ability that creates the differences in their singing.

Assistant Commissioner of Police Philip Carmona, who headed the Southern Division before he left on pre-retirement leave, was one of the many birdmen at the venue. Carmona said: “This is a fantastic sport. I grew up in Palo Seco and since I was small I had an interest in birds. When I came to Chaguanas I was introduced to a man named Deo from Carapichaima. I saw the enthusiasm and the growing love for the sport and I decided to get involved. I recently went down to Palo Seco for a police town meeting and I saw a lot of youths involved, but they did not know how to organise competitions. I arranged a seminar and showed the rudiments of how it’s done.”

Carmona said the Palo Seco event was highlighted in the media and he had received four trophies from sponsors in the United States for a competition he had planned for Harris Promenade in San Fernando.

Carmona said the potential for bird-whistling is enormous and he hopes to get the Tourism Development Corporation to promote the sport at an international level and have it highlighted on Amazing Games. Carmona said bird-whistling also holds a lot of potential in getting young people to spend their idle time in a constructive manner and away from untoward activity.

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