January 01, 2022

The Birdmen

The Birdmen

It is four in the morning and dreadfully cold on the Spit. I stand next to a gigantic net, about the size of a five-story building, and wait for birds to fly into it. A recording of a bird’s trill (to lure in passing birds) plays in the background – so far, at this early hour, we haven’t spotted any live specimens.

In the darkness we hear the twittering of the rare early risers. Ornithologist Arseny Tsvey and I can only just make out the shape of one another in the darkness. As the sound trap chirps away, I chase the occasional bird that flies into the net, clapping to drive it down the netting passageway, where it will be trapped.

Arseny needs to measure the levels of the hormone corticosterone in the birds. To do this, it is important to catch them quickly and take some of their blood before they grasp the danger of the situation and become nervous. In an hour, we catch just two birds, and at five o’clock we return to finish our dreams in our cold, summer-weight tents. And then, just as I have dropped off to sleep, one of the scientists starts thwacking on the walls of the tent: “Girls, get up, I caught a pretty bird for you!”

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