Watching wildlife can produce moments of remarkable drama, be it rutting Red Deer stags, or Golden Eagles fighting in the skies above the Great Glen, or predator and prey locked in a deadly battle. But you don’t have to travel far for drama, or indeed to have your principles tested.
I’ve been lucky enough this year to have a pair of blackbirds chose to nest in one of the hedges at the back of the house. It’s always best to give nesting birds space (although here they didn’t help themselves as the other side of the hedge is a public snicket), but we still made a point of observing from a distance.
They behaved slightly atypically in that the male tended to take a lot of turns on the nest, mainly to let the female bathe daily. I suspect they were a young pair as the male at least wasn’t either of the males we had last year.
Eventually we started to see them taking food into the nest, and though it was silent and looked empty from our observations, there were obviously chicks in place. As they grew, it became clear there were three chicks, and they were doing well. It looked like success was on the cards.
Then, 8 days after hatching, things took a downward turn. Sitting in the living room we heard an unholy racket from the nest. Looking out the window, it was clear a magpie had launched an attack.
Now, anyone who knows me will be aware I believe strongly in non-intervention in nature. Predators have as much right to life as their prey, and so it is only right in such circumstances to observe dispassionately. It was this strong principle that I instantly abandoned as I ran out the door towards the nest!
Whether it was my appearance, or just the attacks of the parents, I cannot say. But the magpie moved off. A glance in the nest showed at least one chick, spreading itself across the nest, but alive. Minutes later a small brown streak shot across the ground from the base of the hedge, into a nearby woodpile. The nest was empty, and the chicks had fled for other hiding places.
Now, this isn’t unusual. Blackbird chicks have evolved to allow them to fledge very early, before they can fly, and hide out. The parents will then keep feeding them on the ground. But 8 days is the very far end of what they can usually manage, and the nights were still pretty cold in April.
Chick One made a beeline for the back of our house, hiding amongst a sea of plant pots. Sensible bird. But the magpie was still hanging around ominously.
Chick Two made an appearance a little later in the evening, again hurtling across the garden, this time pursued by a cat. Again, principles abandoned and out I went.
Chick Three we’ve never seen, but with magpies, crows and cats, it’s safe to assume what happened. It did cross my mind to take them in, but there I drew a line.The chicks were ultimately healthy and had two live parents. They had a chance.
The next morning it soon became clear just one chick had survived the night. But did he make it much further, running the gauntlet of predators and cold, cold nights?
Well, yes he did.
Over the next couple of weeks we got used to seeing him scurrying about the garden. We got used to his squeaky call for food. Soon he learned to climb up through hedges to a safer height. Soon after that, the first low and short flights were seen, and before too long he was happily flying around from fence to hedge to fence to tree.
Admittedly his aim wasn’t always great (he nearly hit me once), and his landing were awful (most times he hit the hedge like a dart rather than landing in it).
Now, the adults are building a new nest, and Junior has gone, off to find separate territory for the summer now he is independent.
One out of three is a good return for a blackbird nest, especially the first brood of the year. So all the drama and stress of it has produced a happy ending.