The hadeda is anything but ladeda

By James Clarke

The infernal, strident, sleep-shattering call of that pesky ibis, the hadeda, has become a characteristic of life in well-grassed estate – like crime and dodgy officials have become in the world outside our cosy stockades

From a technical perspective the Hadeda’s call when nearby is above the decibel level that the National Occupational Safety Association recommends in the work place let alone a suburban estate.

The law requires the wearing of ear muffs when noise (defined as “unwanted sound”) reaches 80 dBa which is the level a small group of ibises achieves.

But why can’t the hadeda be more sensitive?

Until the sudden urban influx of Bostrychia hagedash (the formal name for the hadeda ibis) around the 1980s it was the bulbul’s ever-cheerful song that woke us in the mornings, or the robin’s melodious voice whose singing could even lull us back to sleep if we so desired.

With the property rates we are now paying it is the sort of service we are entitled to expect.

While most birds chirp merrily, the hadeda screams like an impatient witch calling for more eye of newt and tongue of bat.

Its call is as divorced from bird song as a road worker’s jackhammer is divorced from Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto.

There are times when I wonder if the hadeda is not being deliberately provocative.

This misbegotten bird awakens tens of thousands of people every dawn. Which is fine I suppose unless, say, you’d had a party the night before.

If the hadeda’s racket were man-made it would have people reaching for their lawyers. There’d be R10 000 fines under noise abatement laws.

I recall a row of them sitting on next door’s roof and calling loudly at 4pm on an otherwise quiet Sunday afternoon. At first, being a tolerant sort of person, I chuckled at the effrontery of it. It really was over the top, even for hadedas.

It was the sort of racket you’d expect from frustrated drunken soccer fans after their team had lost 10/nil – at home.

Then suddenly my neighbour, the archetype of a quiet, cultured suburban lady, came out of her kitchen and shouted at the top of her lungs “For Pete’s sake shutuppp!”

They flew off jeering. Hadedas can be very derisive.

The hadeda is an urban squatter. In recent years it has hugely expanded its numbers in the summer rainfall area such as the Highveld, especially in complexes where the lawns are kept watered and, therefore, easy for the hadeda’s long, curbed, tube-like bill to penetrate.

The influx came about because the hadeda, quite suddenly really, had the opportunity, all year round, to probe for earthworms and insects. This is the only time it shuts up – when its bill is deep into the dirt.

The proliferation of exotic trees in suburban areas has offered it new nesting and roosting opportunities and it never settles down to roost until the gang has gathered for a final hideous sunset chorus.

What can we do about it? There is an option.

Evacuate Gauteng for a few years allowing tall veld grasses to take over and the ground to harden for the five dry months of mid-year.

Tall trees will have to go too, of course.

But then (I hear you ask) where do we go?

We go west – west into the Great Karoo and to the Namib.

Yet even there we will not be assured of peace because, according to the “Atlas of Southern African Birds” published by Birdlife South Africa, the hadeda is steadily moving into the arid west lured by irrigation schemes and having learned to nest on telegraph poles.

The poles will have to go to of course.

And the irrigation schemes.

Or we could go east – Perth. No hadedas there.

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