BY: CAROLINE KILLMER
Beijing is a birder’s worst nightmare.
As best I can tell from having observed the situation for over a decade, the capital’s avian offerings are limited to magpies (喜鹊 xǐquè), crows (乌鸦 wūyā), sparrows (麻雀 máquè), the occasional swallow (燕子 yàn zi) and that edible pet, the pigeon (鸽子gēzi).
The sound of pigeons softly cooing to one another provides the soundtrack to the capital’s hutongs. Their owners tend to be mildly obsessive, housing them in precariously balanced rooftop units, medicating the birds to keep the flock healthy, raising the hatchlings and letting the adults out to swoop over the neighborhood in elegant loops for exercise. Some breeders still tie whistles (鸽哨 gēshào) to the birds’ legs or tails, creating a sci-fi noise better suited to an approaching UFO than a gang of ragtag pigeons.
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