Fact or Fiction: Birds
Published by Jon Land for 24dash.com in Housing
Fact or Fiction: Birds
Following on from our revolting rats Fact or Fiction last month, we continue the vermin theme with birds (Ed – Is that factually correct?). Here are six fun-filled facts focusing on our feathered friends – but which is the cuckoo in the nest?
1 In a flap
A pensioner who attracted “thousands” of birds to her garden due to her obsession with feeding them was eventually jailed to give her neighbours a break. Rooks, pigeons, seagulls, sparrows and starlings would gather in trees around social housing tenant Barbara Simpson’s home at 5am every morning in anticipation of their daily feast. And what a feast it was. The pensioner spent £150 every week on bird feed, carefully placing cheese, nuts, breadcrumbs and seed up to six inches deep on a 24 sq. ft bird table. After repeated complaints from neighbours and five court appearances, Mrs Simpson eventually ended up ‘doing bird’. So notorious were her feeding antics, she appeared on the TV show ‘Neighbours from Hell’. Despite being caught on camera she insisted: “It’s a tissue of lies. I put a few handfuls of peanuts out that’s all for the little birds here. Someone has reported it and made a big ‘hoo-ha’ about absolutely nothing.”
2 Billy the Pigeon
As we have seen, birds can sometimes be troublesome. But when a ‘bird’ is also a thieving man, you’ve got real problems. ‘Billy the Pigeon’ racked up more than 200 convictions during a 12-year crime spree across Newcastle before being banned from the city centre. The committed and prolific William Armstrong was described as a “serial pest” by police, who arrested him “countless times”. But why the nickname? Though it was widely believed he earned it because he fed off scraps, Armstrong tried to scotch the rumours by claiming it was because of his father, William the Elder, who kept pigeons. But then you would, wouldn’t you?
3 Bath time
A birdbath-wielding nuisance (these things do happen) was finally banished from an area after he used a small concrete spa set aside for our feathered friends to spruce up in to smash one of his mother’s neighbour’s windows. Irritable Lee Miller would “create havoc” whenever he visited his ma in North Tyneside. Eventually, social landlord Home Group collected enough evidence to expel the ornithological tub tossing menace from the neighbourhood. So, why did he do it? Our best guess: bird-brained.
4 The great nesting crisis
During the recession of the early 1990s, the then- Conservative government cut the level of grant for council nesting boxes, leading to a sharp fall in the number of affordable birdhouses being provided. As a result, thousands of birds including sparrows, blue tits and robins were forced to live in the private nesting sector. The problem was particularly acute in London where sky-high rents forced entire flocks to migrate to places as far afield as Ethiopia. In response to the crisis, many councils transferred their nesting stock to new associations dedicated to birds, including Merlin, Swan and Lesser Spotted Grebe, which specialised in ‘cheep’ accommodation.
5 Hard to swallow
Local dead boy Alfred Hitchcock has been honoured in Leytonstone with a mural of ‘The Birds’ in tribute to his classic 1963 film which did not help the RSPB’s membership drive that year. The striking images have been painted on the building directly next to the plot where the son-of-a-greengrocer director was born at 517 Leytonstone High Road. It is now a petrol station. Actress Tippi Hedren is also painted cowering from the birds nearby while Hitchcock’s famous profile is depicted in the eye of the largest bird. Hitchcock died in 1980 with some conspiracy theorists claiming he was the victim of a hit ordered by the NSA (National Seagull Association).
6 Not pretty Polly
A council tenant in York faced eviction back in 2007 due to her foul-mouthed parrot Sparky who kept telling visitors to “show us your knickers” as well as uttering an array of expletives. The African grey parrot actually belonged to the lodger and first came to the attention of the authorities when they investigated other alleged anti-social behaviour offences (by the tenant, not the lodger or the parrot – try to concentrate). The tenant told her local paper: “I feel like I’m being hounded out and this is some sort of vendetta. I don’t think anyone else would get evicted because of a parrot."