Grandson Abel was very pleased when starlings nested under his roof. Of course they did not stay long in town but took off to the countryside for the summer once the chicks were fledged. Mary Webb enjoyed them too, in Shropshire, with their howls and hoots and shrieks and whistlings.
Their enemy in this part of Canterbury is not the owl but the sparrowhawk: one caught a starling right beside me in the back garden a few years ago, and last month I surprised one with a kill just 100 metres away. I also helped the young hawk by frightening off the thieving magpie!
It’s good to witness a previously persecuted bird establishing itself in our city, though the neighbour who generously feeds the little birds might not be too happy about the little piles of feathers that appear near here house from time to time. Enjoy Mary Webb’s poem, and Laudato Si’!
Starlings by Mary Webb
When the blue summer night Is short and safe and light, How should the starlings any more remember The fearful, trembling times of dark December? They mimic in their glee, With impudent jocosity, The terrible ululation of the owls That prey On just such folk as they. ‘Tu-whoo!’ And rusty-feathered fledglings, pressed Close in the nest Amid the chimney-stacks, are good all day If their indulgent father will but play At owls, With predatory howls And hoots and shrieks and whistlings wild and dread. Says one small bird, With lids drawn up, cosily tucked in bed, ‘Such things were never heard By me or you. They are not true.’
We were about to sit down to a family lunch in the garden, with all the furniture arranged for social distancing, when there was a mighty clamour from the roof of next-door-but-one. That roof has a hole, some 20cm square, where a tile has fallen. This has been a godsend to the sparrows who seem to be on the increase locally; they’ve moved back into a hole under our eaves which was abandoned for a few years and found a new spot at the back of our house. Two sparrows in particular are tame enough to come near to our al fresco table and suggest that we might spare a crumb. How could we say no?
It turned out that the racket on the roof was from the combined forces of sparrows and starlings, combining to chase away a pair of magpies who were taking too close an interest in the hole in the roof. The magpies left the scene, apparently empty-beaked, and life seemed to return to normal for the little birds.
Except that there was a little chick, still flightless, struggling at the edge of the garden pond. With wet feathers it was becoming more difficult to get out, till Mrs T stretched out her arm and pulled the sorry sodden sparrowlet to safety. The little fellow seemed to know that safety lay in camouflage, hiding in the herbaceous border, but loud ‘feed me’ chirps told us he was still around. The danger from cats has diminished.
I think the sparrow may have been involved in the magpie incident, perhaps pulled out of the nest but dropped to the ground as the bigger birds fled. Let’s hope his devoted parents’ efforts to feed him in hiding were enough to bring him to the joys of flight!
And may we find ways to bring joy to those who have been hiding away from the Corona Virus.