Friday, 15 February 2008
Something I've never seen before today - I had just restocked the bird feeders in the garden and was watching from indoors. The birds are all showing signs of preoccupation with spring and the breeding season - two chaffinches were having a fierce and fluttery spat on the ground - and, as usual at this time of year, the starlings have reappeared at the feeders, having been absent for much of the winter. While I was watching, a starling which was standing on the bird table reached down towards a sparrow on the fatball feeder, grabbed it by the scruff of its neck and pulled it off, shaking it backwards and forwards in the air before dropping it. The sparrow flew off apparently unfazed, but I was full of indignation on its behalf.
I'm very fond of "our" sparrows, and enjoy watching them in the hawthorn hedge, where they each sit in their own little hollow, safely out of the eye of hawks and cats, waiting for the bird food to arrive. They are great characters, travelling in a little flock round the garden, cleaning insects from around the wheel-arches of the cars, clearing up after the chicken run has been moved on and generally carrying out their noisy lives in the full glare of public scrutiny, a sort of extended family appearance on reality TV. The starlings, on the other hand, are raucous and greedy: a fat slab disappears within hours of being put out. In summer whole families bicker over worms on the lawn and, every now and again, an entire flock descends for a day, and the air is full of noise. The beauty of the oily sheen on their feathers is, I admit, under-rated, but I cannot welcome them wholeheartedly.
Tomorrow I will take a little time to groom Senior Dog, who will provide copious clumps of soft brown fluff; these will roll around the garden like balls of tumbleweed, until it has all been collected by uxorious sparrows. The dogs regard the birdtable regulars with a benevolent eye, and SD will not begrudge it.