It’s been a good spring for birds. I’m not very knowledgeable about wildlife, but it seems that the interrupted, not to say downright contrary, weather patterns this year have mean a lot of birds have nested and produced at the same time.
A month or so ago our Parisian neighbour, down for the week, knocked on our door and invited us to see ‘the spectacle of the village’. We put on our wellies and waterproofs, expecting a stroll down the garden, but we didn’t need them. The spectacle was in the house.
Because this is a holiday home, the owners cover over the fireplace when they are away to stop birds coming down the chimney. Nobody told the Mother Owl, who, for reasons unknown but apparently not rare, flew down and laid her five eggs in the cold, soft ashes of the old fire.Our neighbour and his wife were woken up by so much noise, they thought an angry cat had fallen down the chimney: but on investigation, it was the mother coming to feed her chicks.
Another neighbour has been keeping a close eye and a record of their progress, and what we first saw as five fluffy, sharp-beaked yellowy bundles, graded by size from tiny to almost adult, have fledged and flown. We had no idea how they would learn to fly upwards in so confined a space, but they apparently made their way up in stages, from ledge to ledge, and departed according to their size.
In the meantime, we have had hirondelles - swallows - nesting in the Little House – the ruined one, which we hoped to re-roof this summer. That is now on hold: these amazing little birds, which fly up from Africa without stopping, sleeping on the wing, and only make landfall to lay eggs and bring up their family, deserve the chance to do that in their chosen place. There were three of them involved in the nest building, zooming in and out of the open doorway.
Then one sunny day, as we were sitting in the garden, we saw a similar bird fly up to the wall of our house under the eaves, cling to the render there, and call. Another joined it, and they had a chuckling sort of chat, and flew away again – but not before a tiny speck of mud had been deposited on the wall.That speck is rapidly growing into a nest.
The cuckoo is very late this year, but maybe that’s a good thing – if all the other birds have had their first clutches of eggs and seen their families safely into flight, maybe the bully birds won’t push so many vital little chicks out of their rightful nests.
This morning, there was a sparrow on the ground with four young, all demanding food. Imagine having four children round the breakfast table, and having to hand-feed each one, with them all jostling for position and yelling, “Me! Me!” Birds have more patience than we do.
On the way to the supermarket yesterday we passed a house with a cage in the garden; the last time we passed, there was a magpie in the cage. Now there are two. Whether the owner of the house is protecting other nests, I don’t know, but it seemed wrong to see such big, bright birds so contained. Maybe he will release them again when the other baby birds have flown: better than killing them, anyway.
But there is one bird that is not welcome in my garden – not that it ever lands here. It just passes over. Frequently. On those rare days when I get to hang my washing out – the big washing, like sheets and duvet covers, that look so lovely and fresh billowing in the breeze – a bird the size of an albatross spots it from on high, and decides to use it for target practise. I have never seen the bird itself, but the results can be spectacular. I hate to think what it is eating, but I think it could do with a few more vegetables in its diet.
So all in all it has been a hopeful spring, no matter what the weather has done to delay it. And apart from those odd days of hot, welcome sunshine, when we humans all dash outside and turn out faces up to the warmth, if it’s too wet to hang out my washing, at least it can’t be bombed by the albatross.