The bird with the loudest cry in Africa is called a hadeda ibis. It’s the bird most South Africans love to hate. We all know them, they’re everywhere. I repeat: the loudest shriek on the continent. When all other birds wake to a new day trilling with joy at the thought of an early worm and tree top rendezvous, the hadeda shrieks his cry across the sky as if to warn the world that he can take whatever crap the day brings. And he can.
This large bird with a long beak isn’t known for beauty although when the light is right the sun reflects the beautiful green-silver sheen of his wings and then one remembers that all creatures have a redeeming feature.
But that shriek … under a normal pre-covid world, ours is a country of tourism. Every morning thoughout the land hapless tourists descend to breakfast on their first morning in Africa asking their hosts ‘What on earth was that creature that woke us up at the crack of dawn?’ Because the hadeda likes to share with the world every detail of his progress to and from his nest every morning and every evening.
When I was a child living in Johannesburg we had one as a pet. Yes. Not by choice, mind you, but we had one nonetheless. I suspect we were his pets. I don’t remember that we ever gave it a name; we probably referred to it simply as ‘the bird’, or ‘l’oiseau’ since we were a French household. Our neighbour’s son brought him home from boarding school after rescuing and healing it. The bird clearly didn’t like the neighbours’ property and decided to come and live with us instead. We had a back door with a screen that was never shut and was permanently wedged open. This screen door, at the top of a few steps, is where the bird took up residence for all the time he lived with us. He seldom budged from there other than to go forage on the lawns, as they are wont to do.
I don’t remember how long he was with us but we became quite used to him. He would call now and again but he didn’t have a mate so was less bragful than he would no doubt later become. We were the only kids in school with a pet hadeda. The neighbours had always been a bit snooty towards us so being abandoned by their rescue hadeda was a kick in the teeth for them and totally raised our status, although we pretended to not notice it. We were privileged, I don’t care what anyone says about the pile of poop outside the back door.
He would fly off once in a while and not return for days. We’d sadly think he was finally gone but the next morning there he was again, just sitting on the screen door watching us. The yard overlooked the ubiquitous servants quarters and the toolshed so there was always activity and company. We had two cats, one of which would sit on the roof of the shed watching him for hours; this stand off never went anywhere, than goodness because the cat woud’ve probably come off worse for it.
Eventually, the hormones and the healing led him to health and the realisation that he was missing out on life by hanging out with unrewarding and ungrateful humans, so one day he took off and never came back. No, it wasn’t like in the movies where the wild animal returns to show off his babies and mate to those who cared for him; we simply never saw him again and imagined him making a proper nest at the top of a tree and raising a family of raucous little baby hadedas.
So now I pretend to hate them but deep down I think they’re awesome and whenever one of them lands on my roof or ventures down into my garden (which is seldom because I have no lawn and two dogs) I feel privileged and it reminds me of my youth in that Johannesburg house and the days when we had a pet hadeda.
Photo taken from Google as I have only blurred shots of it. Strange really considering how often I see them and how full our neighbourhoods are of them. Oh and by the way, they’re not endangered at all, in fact their numbers are on such an increase I suspect they’re planning a take over.
Watch this great short documentary about the Hadeda Ibis and the city of Johannesburg.