Hair-raising result as blackbird finds food off the beaten track


FOR as long as I can remember, I have been fond of birds, but I have recently come across a specimen I have never seen before - the bald headed blackbird.

It lives in the back garden of Hextol Towers, and I regret to say I am responsible for its localised alopecia.

I should explain that while I wouldn’t go and camp out in the Norfolk Broads just to hear the boom of a bittern, or take my summer holidays in the Hebrides in the hope of catching a glimpse of a red necked phalarope, I do like to see the native birds of wherever I happen to be.

As a child, I would lie on my back for hours in the fields near our house, watching a soaring skylark pouring out its lovely tune as it rose vertically heavenwards until it was a barely visible speck in the sky.

And when the song ceased, I would strain my eyes to catch its dramatically silent plunge back to earth. I knew from my Romany books that it never descended straight back to its nest, but landed some distance away, and sneaked along the ground to return to its young.

I never managed to track a skylark back to its nest despite years of trying, but one day my brother and I stumbled across one purely by accident, beautifully camouflaged in a scrape on the ground. It contained four eggs, and we discreetly visited the nest for around a month, during which time we saw the eggs, hatch, and mam and dad skylark toil away to feed four ever-gaping mouths.

As a pesky girl our sister was forbidden from joining us on our wildlife forays, but one day, she sneaked out after us, and followed us surreptitiously as we crawled through the grass to the nest location.

When we stopped, she charged past us with a triumphant cackle - and trod on the nest, destroying all its little occupants.

She was distraught, especially when we told her that the parents of the chicks would fly into her bedroom that night when she was asleep and peck her eyes out.

We never raided birds’ nests for their eggs, as some of our schoolmates did, but we did once adopt a young magpie we found hopping round the garden. Imaginatively named Maggie, it lived in a shoebox in the back garden, and had a voracious appetite for scraps of toast and other tit-bits. Alas, Maggie ambitiously tried to eat the string which had been wrapped round the family joint one Sunday, and expired with a muffled squawk.

I still love the liquid bubbling call of the curlew, and the indignant “go bak” of the red grouse when it explodes from the heather at your feet with all its family, and can’t wait for the swallows, house martins and sand martins to return over the next few weeks.

Since I retired, one of my favourite pastimes has been sitting in the conservatory watching the comings and goings on the multiple bird feeders which festoon the back garden, We have had a basic bird table and nesting box for decades, but now we are spending almost as much on bird food as we are on ourselves.

The garden is a riot of bird seed, fat balls, peanuts, mealworms and other ornithological delicacies, on which birds of innumerable varieties feast all day long,

Alas, this cornucopia of birdy delights has attracted the attention of the local mouse population, which can occasionally be seen emerging from behind the redundant coal bunker, running along the wall, and grabbing a stray sunflower seed or other delicacy cast aside by the avian diners.

Determined to paid to freeloading mice, I hunted out an old mousetrap, and set it up right at the back of the bunker, far away from birds’ feasting area.

The following morning, the trap contained not a mouse, but a female blackbird. Happily, she was completely unharmed ,for the trap had seized her by the feathers on the very top of her head. On my approach, she freed herself from the trap with a shake of her head, leaving a few feathers behind,

Not content with the splendid repast in the garden, she had clearly gone foraging where no sensible bird would go, in the narrow gap behind the bunker,.

I was mortified, and feared for her future, but happily, her bald pate has become a familiar feature of the Hextol Towers avian scene.

The mousetrap is no more.

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