Nature Notes

The Hawk and the Blackbird

The blackbirds sounded the alarm first, the high, thin, seeip, seeip, reminiscent of redwings in autumn, indicated an aerial predator along the lane towards home. By the time I reached the garden, the alarm had escalated to shrill, rising and falling screams and had been picked up by the ‘tsee tsee-tsee of tits and the loud tic-tic-tic of wrens, robins and the harsh rasp of starlings. Something was coming.

Sure enough, the little male sparrowhawk comes gliding silently into the chaos, rust-orange bars written neatly across his breast, contrasted with the navy-blue back and scimitar wings. But any ambush had been thwarted, the sparrowhawk’s prey pre-alerted by the clarion calls shouted ahead, caught up and passed on between species whose only alliance is that they are prey. Only the weak and unwary are his now … but he doesn’t get a chance even at that. A small flock of seven starlings takes off from the house eaves – a volunteer from each rooftile arch musters forth. They pursue the hawk in perfect delta formation, this squadron, until it is gone out of the immediate territory; in silence, the starlings arc round to return to their individual nest holes.

The sparrowhawk banks between the poplar trees, where the chase and cacophony is taken up by the jackdaws. It drops low, posting itself between the rungs of the five-bar gate like an envelope. And vanishes.

After lunch: a grim scene. Blackbird eggs, like pieces of a painted, curved and fallen sky,  are scattered. A nest has been raided. Each egg has been broken into and the chicks are visible inside. Three are dead and the fourth, pinky-grey batskin stretched over pulsing blue organs and the mere suggestion of a wet feather, gasps its first and last breaths as I pick it up. Another few days and they’d have survived. But who’s to say the nest wouldn’t have been raided then?

I imagine the scene I disturbed. Jackdaw probably, with chicks of its own to feed. And likely one of the birds that joined forces with the blackbird that morning against the sparrowhawk. I place the eggs with their furled embryos inside, gently on the compost heap.

Later, just one half-shell remains, pale, empty, concave like a tiny moon. The male blackbird is already singing his rich, honeyed song-of-ease as if nothing happened. But it is a song we interpret very differently. For him, it is a song of  urgency, vigilance, fight and the next generation. He pauses, cocks his head skywards to check – and redoubles his song.



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