Mysterious callers in the dead of night

by BardofEly

Birds in Tenerife that make a noise at night are a real mystery for people who have never heard them before. The birds are not owls so what are they?

The Birds
My column here is definitely getting read I'm pleased to say and it's causing readers to recognise me too. Only the other night I was in Joe's Bar in Costa del Silencio when a couple said they'd been reading my features in The Western Sun and wanted to ask me a question.
They also said they recognised me because of the green beard, but it was birds they wanted my advice about. What they wanted to know was if I could identify a mystery species that they could hear flying and calling at night over West Haven Bay.
It makes a lot of noise, they told me but our neighbours don't believe us and think we are making it up. They gave me an impression of the bird's cry but I don't think I could do justice to the sounds they made.

Was it a Whimbrel?

A wading bird

Anyway, I believed them and I suggested that it might be a Whimbrel. I told them that I had intended writing about birds for my next story for the paper so this tied in well with my idea. It was a sign from above.

The Whimbrel is actually a large wading bird that is known as the Elephant Bird in some parts of the world because of its long curved beak. It travels up to Scotland and other parts of northern Europe but strangely I had never seen one until I came to Tenerife.

I spotted my first Whimbrel poking its beak into rock pools on a beach at Puerto. I tried to get a photo but, annoyingly, it was too far away. It was the first of many sightings of these birds here but I still don't have a decent picture.

That's the trouble with birds, they tend to fly off while you are sorting out your camera or they are way up in the sky, or they just look like some small brown unidentified flying object.


An unusual wading bird
Whimbrel in Public Domain
Whimbrel in Public Domain

Cory's Shearwater

A nocturnal seabird

Actually the mysterious birds being heard at night were very likely to have been Cory's Shearwaters. This seabird nests among rocks and in burrows on island cliffs around the Canary Islands and on some of those in the Mediterranean Sea. They are often heard if not seen over Tenerife.

The adult birds collect food at sea and visit their nests at night. The baby shearwaters leave under cover of darkness too and many get lost and fly the wrong way so end up in tourist resorts instead of out over the ocean. This is due to light pollution because the birds get confused by all the lights on over the coastal towns.


A very strange and exotic bird

But bird watching brings me a lot of pleasure and Tenerife has plenty of interesting species to look out for. One very exotic bird I have seen here many times is the Hoopoe.

With its salmon-pink body, black and white striped wings and black-tipped crest, that it spreads like a fan if its excited, it looks just like some unusual creature from the Alice books perhaps.

The Hoopoe gets its name from the "hoop hoop" sound it makes. Like the Whimbrel it is a migratory bird and small numbers of them sometimes make it over to the UK.

A great rarity in Britain but here I can almost guarantee on seeing one just around the block. The Hoopoe doesn't know anything about being rare though and isn't at all fussy about the company he keeps. The one that lives near me tends to hang out with a crowd of very British looking sparrows and when they fly up from the lawn in front of an apartment complex here so does the Hoopoe. Again I haven't managed to get a decent photo.


An exotic bird


Like small parrots

On the subject of failed photography, in one of the main squares in Puerto there is a colony of Ring-necked Parakeets. They are bright green and squawk loudly. They also feed like pigeons on scraps people throw them and I had seen a man there getting them to feed from his hand. What a great shot that would make, I thought, and how easy to get.

With this in mind and with my camera fully charged, and taking some stale Pan de Molde (or "mouldy bread" as I like to call it) as a lure I caught the bus there. But it wasn't to be. I hunted all around the square; I tried throwing crumbs of bread but not a sign of the parakeets. All I attracted was a flock of pigeons, some doves and more sparrows.

I like pigeons though and I admire the way they have colonized the world following in our footsteps. Go to nearly any city and you can expect to find them and they have the same habits worldwide. They beg politely and not so politely, they are greedy and selfish and think nothing of stealing from their fellows, they come in a variety of colours and there are always some poor individuals that have something wrong with their feet and are forced to hobble.

Collared Doves

A common bird

Turnstones - wading birds that lift small stones

Collared Doves

The pigeons always arrive with their close relations the Collared Dove and I managed to get some decent pictures of these on a beach at Las Americas. There is a spot where I have seen a man feeding them and they arrive in huge flocks all around him. Even the Turnstones and other waders come up the shore tempted by this free feast.

I went there one day and the man wasn't there but as soon as I went to where I had seen him stand, as if by some unseen magic, all the birds flew in and surrounded me. They kept on coming, but unlike the birds in the Hitchcock movie these were friendly ones and I felt guilty because I had nothing for them.

For some reason I started thinking about St. Francis of Assisi and his kindness to animals. To my way of thinking the man who usually fed the birds was a modern version of this saint and I was just a journalist in search of a story.

Footnote: First published in The Western Sun

Copyright © 2012 Steve Andrews. All Rights Reserved.

Updated: 10/31/2012, BardofEly
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