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Jamaica – The Doctor Bird (Trochilus polytmus)

Stamp Issued in 1956 (part of definitive series)

“(Author: Ian Fleming, For Your Eyes Only, Publisher 1960 Jonathan Cape Limited)

The most beautiful bird in Jamaica and some say the most beautiful in the world, is the streamer-tail or doctor humming-bird. The cock bird is about nine inches long, but seven inches of it are tail- two long black feathers that curve and cross each other and whose inner edges are in form of a scalloped design. The head and crest are black, the wings dark green, the long bill is scarlet and the eyes, bright and confiding, are black. The body is emerald green, so dazzling that when the sun is on the breast you see the brightest green thing in nature.  In Jamaica, birds that are loved are given nicknames.  Trochilus polytmus is called “doctor bird” because his two black streamers remind people of the black tail-coat of the old-time physician.”

This colourful opening to a book that sadly, I had never read until now, led me to research this particular bird.  According to the Jamaica Information Service (JIS) ,

not only is the Doctor Bird a national symbol of Jamaica, they also suggest that it is one of the most outstanding of the 320 species of humming-bird.  The JIS also states:
“These birds’ beautiful feathers have no counterpart in the entire bird population and they produce iridescent colours characteristic only of that family. In addition to these beautiful feathers, the mature male has two long tails which stream behind him when he flies. For years the doctor bird has been immortalized in Jamaican folklore and song.”

Unloved birds?

European Herring Gull (Larus argentatus)

The question

Round the corner from the end of the drive where I now live in Dumfries, is this rather intimidating street sign which tells us “Please Don’t Feed the Gulls”.   Where I live is a five-minute walk from the aptly named Dock Park and the River Nith, where there are other similar signs intended to discourage feeding of the Gulls.  Just up from the park, is the river promenade (Whitesands) where in the middle of the river, just down from the caul[1] is an island on which the Herring Gulls generally camp out, occasionally paddling in the river itself, usually against the tide.  Under heavy rains, when the river rises, this island disappears, in which case the Gulls are more often to be seen in aerial formation overhead.

Along Whitesands there are other variations on the sign at the end of my drive.  This got me wondering: alongside Pigeons, are Herring Gulls also our most unloved urban birds? 

The local council (Dumfries and Galloway) certainly thinks so.  Their website[2] tells me that:

“Gulls in Dumfries and Galloway.

Gulls are a nuisance in Dumfries and Galloway. We don’t have a statutory duty to take action against gulls but do have some powers to tackle the problem.”

The Council also says that because of the current Covid-19 situation, they were unable to offer the normal egg and nest removal service in 2020.   The Gulls are protected by law during the nesting season, but outside of that period, unused nests can be cleared away. 

Amongst the advice offered is to stop the Gulls from scavenging, either from food that is visible to them (people eating taking away food as they walk along the street) or from directly feeding them; or from leaving discarded burgers and chips in litter bins. 

[1] Scots language meaning weir or dam in English. You know what it is when you see it.