As much of my time is spent at home I’m forever looking out of the window. And over the last few weeks, not only have garden birds been busy feeding but predators too.
Recently I glimpsed something from the corner of my eye. On looking up, there was a female sparrowhawk tucking into a feral pigeon – the poor thing was still alive. I moved slowly to take the photograph when the sparrowhawk was busy, its head down feasting on the pigeon. But something spooked her. She dropped the pigeon and flew onto the decking. Was it me that scared her? The last thing I wanted to do was leave a distraught pigeon maimed and the sparrowhawk go without a meal. I then noticed the neighbour’s cat had landed on a nearby fence. The cat pounced on the flapping pigeon with open wounds and the sparrowhawk flew off. I knew the pigeon was beyond help but couldn’t bear to see the cat ‘playing’ with it. So after much shouting, ‘NO!’ the cat stayed clear. My husband picked up the heavily injured pigeon and put it high up on our ivy clad wall to take its final breath in peace. The next day it had gone. I’d like to say its wing perhaps wasn’t broken and the wounds couldn’t have been so bad and that it made a speedy recovery and flew off. But the truth is, the ivy wall is used as a walk-through by the fox. So maybe this pigeon’s fate was to feed something after all.
The natural world can be cruel and each day in our suburban garden is life or death for so many. I’d never seen a sparrowhawk so close before. Those lit yellow eyes are the giveaway to identify this bird. It’s said as some sparrowhawks age their eyes can turn orangeier. They visit gardens, rural countryside and towns.
The sparrowhawk’s past in the UK is turbulent. DDT and persecution meant numbers fell drastically by the 1950s. After DDT was banned, numbers increased but have been up and down ever since even though the bird is widespread. Sparrowhawks usually live for around four years and normally breed at the age of one. They are one of the UK’s smallest birds of prey and they are top predators but sadly still persecuted despite legal protection.
We have many pigeons and doves that fly around and sit on a neighbour’s rooftop. These are a great meal for the agile sparrowhawk. I discovered when sparrowhawks hunt they can use ambush tactics or fly low and then change direction to capture their prey.
We’ve had an abundance of corvids visit the garden over the last couple of months, starting with the magpies. I thought they were going to nest in our silver birch at one point as they were picking at the slim branches high up but it all came to nothing.
The magpies, with their football rattle cry and complete with black and white strip were vocal above the squirrel’s drey in the poplar tree earlier on in the year. I saw a squirrel descend from the tree with something in its mouth as the magpies were ‘clacking’. The squirrel ran through the hedge into the neighbour’s garden and repeated this action several times. Then I noticed the round furry grey thing in the squirrel’s mouth – its young. Was the squirrel taking them to safety? And did it know the birds above were predators for its offsprings? Before cursing the magpies I had to remind myself of events last year, when the squirrel went back and forth through the boundary hedge into a neighbour’s garden. The fourth time I noticed what was in the squirrel’s mouth – a young nestling chick. The interwoven world of nature.
Whilst many people have mixed feelings about magpies they too are just feeding and trying to survive. But one of my favourite corvids is the crow. They have a special place in my heart and my mum’s too. She has fed her resident crows for years and Mr Crow has brought her many gifts including: golf ball, flashing dog collar and supermarket trolley token. Crows are clever birds and can remember human faces, recognise themselves in the mirror and use tools.
Watching the birds can be quite comical. The woodpigeons are messy eaters; I watched them try to swallow a lump of bread. Now I know you’re not supposed to give bread to birds but I occasionally put out the crusts or the end bit of our granary loaf. Sometimes a squirrel will come and take it and other times the magpies and last week a rook! More recently the woodpigeons began throwing it around with their beaks wondering how they could swallow such a large piece. They reminded me of a cartoon – when a character has a bulge in the throat as they swallow. Then down came the cheeky sparrows and took a piece of bread right from under the woodpigeon’s nose. The corvids however, are the brains of the feasting birds. I’ve watched them tentatively, after years of persecution slowly approach the bread. They looked around for signs of humans; put their claw on the chunk of bread so it stayed in one place, then plucked at it taking mouthfuls. Meanwhile the woodpigeons were still throwing it around and trying to swallow chunks too big for their beaks.
Last week, I heard an almighty cacophony of corvids: crows, magpies and jackdaws. They were loud and close, right above our house. I went outside and discovered why they were so irritated…
A neighbour’s cat was sat on the roof. And none of the corvids were happy with a land predator high up. I tried to take a photograph of them sweeping down divebombing the cat as it cowered. The crows were the most vocal and numerous. They’ll take on anything, no matter of its size. They are birds with grit. And it got me thinking – I’ve had so many setbacks lately, rarely leaving the house and having to use my stick again in the home along with some days struggling to put one foot in front of the other. I find it exhausting physically and mentally, especially as I’m coming up to four years in this state. The dusting myself down and trying to plough on and start again with minuscule progress is hard. But the crows are birds of tenacity, they plough on full of grit and that is how I have to be.
From The Birds To The Bees…
There’s been some activity from the nomad bees (Nomada) – nomad in name and nature. The name stems from the Greek, ‘to wander’. Nomad bees are slender and wasp-like with colourful markings: from yellow and black stripes to black and orange. My recent sighting appears to be the Flavous nomad bee Nomada flava. They’ve been feeding on the forget-me-nots – a great bee plant and hang around our garden steps where the Chocolate mining bee Andrena scotica and the Buffish mining bee Andrena nigroaenea reside.
Nomad bees don’t collect pollen, they’re are cleptoparasite and known as cuckoo bees. They lay their eggs in the nest of solitary bees, namely mining bees (Andrena species) and when hatched, the larvae kills the host larvae or egg and feeds upon the food stores. They then emerge as an adult bee the following year.
But this relationship of cuckoo bee and mining bee has been going on for millennia and it said, if you see cuckoo bees it means there is a healthy population of host bees.
The Red Mason bees Osmia bicornis are now active and have emerged from the release chamber. Above shows the male with their blonde moustaches!
Red Mason bees are one of the best pollinators, especially of fruit trees. They are now traded commercially to help orchard owners with pollination.
You can find bees in the funniest of places in the garden – my parents discovered this male Hairy-footed flower bee Anthophora plumipes in the keyhole of their shed!
Enjoy and look out for the birds and the bees where you are!