By Girish Gupta
SCHOONORD, Guyana (Reuters) - As the sun rises over the Demerara River, a half dozen men gather on its west bank, tightly gripping small wooden cages.
Complementing the scenic beauty of the nearby palms and sugar cane fields, male finches chirp melodiously from within their coops, affixed two-to-a-post hammered into the marshy ground.
"Everybody be out here to exercise the bird, and sometimes we have a race," said fisherman Eric Takchand, a participant in the centuries-old Guyanese tradition.
"We feed them, walk them, exercise them. They love that," said Takchand, 54, who has been caring for chestnut-bellied seed finches, locally known as "towa towa", since he was a boy.
In competitions called "races", the winner is the first bird to chirp 50 times. This takes just a few minutes, with bets ranging from token amounts to thousands of dollars.