The kids were out with their Ate Joy whom I sent on an errand and I was doing some yardwork, when I heard frantic chirping of a Brown Shrike. Nothing unusual about that. They usually show up this time of year to spend winter in warm and sunny Paranaque. I looked up at the malunggay tree and sure enough there was a shrike there. But the chirping didn't come from the bird in the tree. It came from the ground. Which was strange because these birds don't usually go to the ground. I looked for it among the tall grass (which I really should be trimming right about now; maybe I could hire someone) and there it was. I approached it slowly, careful not to scare it away, to take a closer look. It hopped. I moved closer. It hopped again. There was obviously something wrong with it or else it would’ve flown away. Cool! The kids would get a kick out of this, I thought. I moved closer and it tried to hide among the grass, and I very gingerly picked it up. A nice specimen: yellowish-tannish breast feathers and that characteristic mask over its eyes. And it had what looked like whiskers over its beak. It didn't look ill; it was clear-eyed and alert. And it didn't seem to have any injuries. Its wings were folded neatly the way they’re supposed to be folded, so I knew the wings weren’t broken. Maybe it was just stupid. I put it in my cap and waited for the kids.
Brown shrike (Lanius cristatus).
Photo by Romy Ocon from The Wild Bird Club of the Philippines website
They came back a few minutes later and I said, “Look at what I have!” showing them the bird in my cap. Then, flash of much delayed realization: BIRD FLU! Mother of pearl, maybe the bird has the dreaded H5N1 virus! So right at the heels of an excited “Look at what I have!” was a panicked “DON'T TOUCH IT!” a split-second later. My girls’ expressions went from Tatay-is-so-cool to Tatay-is-so-strange in that same split second. “Come on, let’s let it go,” I said.
We went to the back of the house and let it go under the avocado tree. I held it in both hands and tossed it in the air so it could fly away. It didn't. It just landed — plop — on the dry avocado leaves on the ground then proceeded to try to hide under the tall grass. A couple of shrikes was in the avocado tree and were chirping loudly and our bird chirped back. One of the birds in the tree was probably saying, “Quit fooling around, Maurice; let’s go.” To which our bird answered: “Whoa! Dude, how’d you get up there?” The bird in the tree probably shrugged his shoulders (if birds had shoulders) and said to the other bird: “I told him not to eat those morning glory seeds, but he wouldn’t listen.”
It was noon, it was hot, so we didn't stick around to find out what happened and moved back into the house to have lunch. After lunch, the kids and I went back to the yard to see if our bird was still there where we left it. It wasn't. We looked everywhere and we couldn’t find it. “Where is it?,” my younger daughter asked.
“It probably flew away with the other shrikes,” I said.
“Ah.” We went back into the house.
The cat probably ate it.