Clicking on Wedplan’s news item in the sidebar about “India in Queens, With a Caribbean Accent” took me on a short but vivid tour of Little Guyana in Richmond Hill, Queens. I’d like to visit someday to experience the neighborhood firsthand.
On weekend mornings, locals bring their black finches to Phil Rizzuto Park, formerly known as Smokey Oval Park, for chirp-off contests.
Many local men keep black finches, which they engage in “chirp-off” whistling contests on early weekend mornings at Phil Rizzuto Park, formerly known as Smokey Oval Park, nearby on Atlantic Avenue.
An older NYT story about chirp-off contests in the same Richmond Hill park gives more details about this musical sport involving birdsong.
Tending them on a recent Sunday were about 50 Indian men from the Caribbean, each coaxing his birds to sing. The men were carrying on a tradition learned from their fathers in their home countries of Guyana, Trinidad and Suriname, where tending finches is such serious business that people sometimes bet on whose bird can whistle 50 times first.
Only male birds whistle and their song is one of courtship, a mating call to woo female finches. As noted, the whistling contests are serious competition. In fact, one minder interviewed had named his birds after boxers: Tyson, Holyfield and Roy Jones Jr.
Using the birds as boxers, at least symbolically, is a large part of the hobby. Now and then, two men placed their cages side by side and a kind of singing match ensued. Winning birds sing louder, faster and more aggressively. Other men watched the competition. When it became clear that a bird was losing, its minder removed the cage.
Owners of winning birds can bring in as much as $5,000, according to “Trafficking in Contraband That Sings,” which tells about the case of 13 live finches called Towa Towas hidden in small plastic hair curlers and smuggled into the U.S. on a flight from the Caribbean. There’s a demand for these birds in Queens because Guyanese immigrants believe that the best singers come from back in the grass in Guyana.
Listen: A Guyanese finch singing. Having 50 or so going at it in the park must be quite a burst of chirping and whistles!