The facts before the flutter
When I was young I adored these creatures for their bright feathers and pleasing tunes, freely offered to all who will hear. I always took the chance to feed the ducks when visiting an elderly relative; that was often the reason I asked to visit.
As an adult I admire them for their freedom and practicality. The land, sea and air was theirs long before it was ours. Because of my curiosity, their activities have always caught my eye. A number of their notable deeds have lodged in my memory and I've decided to share them here.
This is the nearest you'll get to 'listicles' on this website, except it isn't awful and it isn't clickbait.
All Ye who hunger, Perch Up at the Yarn Feeder!
The evenings in the eaves
At the beginning of lockdown in 2020, I recall how quiet the streets and roads were. How disturbed and unsettled everyone was, it was like mankind had withdrawn from the world and it was clearly felt in the air. Certainly, the winged creatures caught wind of this and moved in to where we had withdrawn.
One morning my sleep was distrubed at daybreak. Above my head, I heard loud scuffling and first suspected mice. Then I listened carefully and heard the chirping. Over the weeks, this intensified. I imagine most people would not welcome such an incursion into their sleep patterns, but I didn't once I realised who these new lodgers were. I heard the cheery chatter one morning and my heart was lifted; it was a family of starlings. They had bequeathed our house the great honour of being where they would raise their young.
Over the weeks I heard the bustling of busy construction. For a while, I noticed father starling visiting often with dinner in his beak. Eventually, I heard the sound of gentle peeping, it had happened. The brood had left their shells. Now the takeaway deliveries had become even more frequent, with many more mouths to feed.
During this time, I attempted to install a webcam to stream the nest live. While I pointed a camera inwards without causing the birds any alarm, unfortunately the area was too dark and the camera too shabby to offer any night vision. Thus I recorded only the rhythmic chanting of the chicks, always sounding the air to guide their parents home. But knowing how dearly birds bond with their young, I would say this sound isn't even necessary.
I tuned into this family drama every day. Eventually the chanting chicks were reduced to three, then two. The parents still visisted. Then the chanting was down to a solitary voice. Over time, that voice was stilled too. I often wonder if he made it out of the nest, or was abandoned and faced fate. Given the large number of starlings who visited the roof and gardens that summer, I will choose to believe the former. Surely the sound of the happy crowds was enough to bring him out, for they were all waiting for him to join them.
The Stolen Thatch, planned for a hatch
One Saturady I noticed a pair of magpies landed on a thatched cottage roof. They were busy admiring the thatchwork, but after steady examination it transpired they weren't there simply as connosuers. They were actually ripping the thatch from the roof, they perched at the edges of the eaves and dived over, emerging with the dried straw in their beaks.
I suppose it is somewhat poetic. Taking from the home of one to build a home for another.
Those ducks who frustrate my schemes in the lake
I've already covered this story here, but I'm repeating it because I love ducks.
I was kayaking across the waves and noticed that I shared the water with ducks. Being a generous soul I thought to offer the quackers a lift back to shore; it was a scorching day and surely they were exhausted from all the paddling, just as I was.
However when I approached a duck she simply paddled all the more intensely. So I accelerated, and the duck simply led me in circles. This happened at least thrice. The ducks never took to flight, not even once. Each of them knew that I would give up first and they were right. Despite me being within an arm's reach of more than one duck, they never flinched and just kept leading me in circles.
In conclusion, ducks aren't daunted.
Bin Hoking Starlings
Many years ago, I walked past the back alley of a chip shop. I heard much fluttering and chattering, there was a flurry of starlings at one of the dumpsters. For this dumpster was so overrun with rubbish bags its lid hadn't closed; through this exposed hatch they were taking it in waves to swoop inside. The murmuration was very well organised and no bird was left without a meal. Fish, chips, chicken, cheese, all the chip shop ingredients were lying in this banquet. No bin liner too thick to come between starling and supper.
This particular chippy can now announce to the world that its food is fully starling-endorsed. If it's good enough for such a noble bird even in the bin, imagine how good it is for you fresh!
A view of the queue
Around half a decade ago, I installed a number of bird feeders in the back garden. I wanted a pet bird but hate caging them. So, as a compromise with myself I installed bird feeders and a bird table for the wild ones. As expected they took to free food as well as you or I would.
What I didn't expect was the level of organisation that ensued.
The birds were lined up in a queue, swallows and sparrows and bluetits sitting in a straight line at the top of the fence. I once counted as many as fifty. They were waiting for the current diners to finish their meal, then they'd swoop in and take their places at the 'table'. This happened until the queue was exhausted. Again it appeared that no bird went unfed. Truly, they are creatures of these isles for they value the venerable queue, the bedrock of personal organisation and social order as much as we do.
The starling who rocked the suet shell
At the same time I installed the bird feeders, I also assembled and pitched a bird table in the front garden. Many visitors came, noticably larger than the average visitor at the feeders. Pigeons, crows, rooks, and even stralings came. There was placed a half coconut shell filled with suet in the middle of this poletop house. The starlings were fond of rocking it on their feet; this helped bring the suet nearer to beek, and surely gave them the same simple exhiliration we felt as children on a see-saw.
Bacon in the barrel
Once while waiting for a train, I noticed quite a ruckus at the bin on the opposite platform. I saw this very large crow, or perhaps raven, dipping his body in and out whilst perched at the rim. Each time he dipped his head in, a piece of rubbish was aggressively tossed and flung behind him into the air. He knew something worth the risk and the effort was lying underneath. Plastic wrap, paper, chocolate bar wrappers all floated gently to the ground behind him.
I was distracted by a conversation, then when I turned again I saw our food excavator in flight, making his way not far from my head. Carried in his beak was a very large piece of bacon, and he was beating the air with great effort to carry it away. My congratulations to him if he managed to finish it without inviting the company of 'well-wishers' and long lost relatives for unplanned diner party guests.
None as sly as the Magpie
I was walking though a public park and my attention was drawn to a large gathering of pigeons. Someone had spread a blanket of crumbs on the ground and the cooing masses were eager to claim them. However, no fortune lasts long without drawing dragons, but thankfully for the pigeons they would contend only against the magpie.
This magpie took it in rounds to sweep in and make all the pigeons scatter and jump. He had no interest in their measly meal, so he just stood in the now-wuiet patch looking pleased with himself. After a minute he would return to a safe distance. The pigeons gathered again, gobbling down the crumbs faster than ever. But Mr Magpie hadn't his share of amusement. He swooped in again and no pigeon was found brave enough to challenge him. Then he left, the pigeons gathered, and presumably this continued for some time. I can't share the ending for certain, because I had somewhere to be and walked along. But I like to think that crafty tormenter is still hiding in the brambles, perhaps now plotting greater mischief still.