Roald Dahl's love of birds: this month the pages of My Year reveal how the author observed the birds around his home.
In the month of April we are officially in spring. For Roald this was a great time of year, as his favourite summer birds come flocking back to Britain after having escaped the cold and dreary winter months. In My Year he lists the returning skylarks, greenfinches, golden plovers and chiffchaffs, amongst many others, and welcomes them home. Roald loved birds and had lots of budgies of his own as an adult, as well as a canary called Custard and a very lazy blue parakeet…
But when Roald was a boy he was fascinated by two birds that stay here all year round, telling his mother the legends of the wren and the blackbird that he learnt at school from a visitor. He wrote this in 1925, when he was nine years old:
Above: section of a letter Roald Dahl wrote when he was nine.
The Wren is the King of the birds, he sead, because the birds were going to have a test, and the one which could fly the highest would be king, and so they started, and the Eagle flew up and up until he could not go any further, nearly all the other birds had droped out, just then the wren flew out of the Eagles ferthers and managed to fly a few yards higher, so he was the [King of the] birds.
In the letter, Roald also recounts the legend of how the blackbird’s feathers were turned black by the Prince of Riches “spitting fire and smoke” in anger at the bird touching his gold without permission.
But of course, Roald reminds us, “that is only a legend”.
Above: section of a letter Roald Dahl wrote home from Tanzania.
Roald didn’t lose his enthusiasm for birds when he left school. He was sent to Tanzania for a year while he was working for Shell, and there he came across lots of new and exciting birds. He wrote home to his Mama, enthusiastically telling her about the bee-eaters – the sight of which made up for the awful heat:
These were “the most beautiful birds you’ve ever seen – bright green, and apparently they are very rare, but come to Lake Habbaniya every year to rest.”
Perhaps those bright green bee-eaters inspired Roald to create his most famous feathered friend the Roly-Poly Bird!
Although don’t tell the Pelly I said that…
Roald Dahl’s love of birds comes across in lots of his stories, with the Roly Poly Bird popping up in two of his books, The Twits and The Enormous Crocodile.
In fact, although birds don’t tend to be the main characters in his books they are often the good guys, helping the main characters in lots of weird and wonderful ways. The seagulls help James fly through the sky on his peach before coming to a halt on top of the Empire State Building, and Swan helps Billy defeat the Gruncher in the Billy and the Minpins.
Characters that aren’t so friendly with birds in Roald Dahl’s stories don’t fare very well… as the Gregg family found out in The Magic Finger. They were turned into ducks and had to nest in trees to punish them for hunting! Roald’s birds were not to be trifled with, that’s for sure.
You can find out a bit more about Roald Dahl and his fantabulous creatures here.