Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Consider the birds

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

I woke this morning to a tremendous rattling sound. It took me a moment to work out what the racket was. It turned out to be a bird, flapping madly against the Venetian blinds.

I am afraid of birds in the house. I catch their panic. They are so unfrightening outside, in the air, but so alarming in a confined space. But the poor thing was going crazy, so I bravely got up, put on my dressing gown, and set about a rescue. The dogs, oddly calm, settled themselves on the bed to watch.

Of course, I could not get close to the little creature. Each time I approached it, it flew away in panic. I opened all the windows, but it was now blind with terror, and could not find its way out. I stepped back, not wanting to frighten it more, and then it suddenly took off across the room, in full flight, and crashed head first into the window pane. I thought it must have broken its neck. It fell down onto the shelf below, amazingly still alive, and sat stunned and panting (I did not know birds could pant, but this one was), next to one of my treasured Lulu Guinness bags and a copy of The Perfect Storm, by Sebastian Junger.

It was a Great Tit, its breast vivid yellow, with a dusty green back and a neat black cap. There was nothing great about it now, as it sat, diminished and shocked from fear and collision. It seemed unable to move, so I could finally get close enough to pick it up. Its tiny little body was so fragile it seemed hardly to exist. I carried it gently downstairs and set it down outside my front door. There was a hard glittering frost on the grass and the sun was dazzling out of the first blue sky we have seen for days. (The rain has been so bad here that half the roads are closed from floods and mudslides; half a hill has collapsed near Stonehaven.)

I was afraid that the bird was mortally wounded and would never fly again, but just die quietly in front of me. I had a forlorn hope that it had just dizzied itself, and might recover. The dogs and I settled down on the step to see what it would do. It sat, very still, fluffing up its feathers against the cold, occasionally turning to look at me with a plaintive stare, its beak open in silent entreaty. I was uncertain what to do next. If it was too badly hurt I should have to do that brutish country thing of finishing it off with a stone or a tree branch, as we sometimes have to do if we find wounded rabbits in the woods. Despite being brought up on a farm, and having a tremendous appetite for ratting when young, I have never had much stomach for mercy killings, even though it is by far the kindest thing to do. I wondered if I should have to call my friend Matt, who can do anything, and is always rescuing me from errant pigs and mechanical problems.

And then, just as I was losing hope, and the morning cold was seeping into my bones, the bird shook itself, gave me a parting look, and took to the sky. It felt like a present. It felt like a portent. I shouted out loud in delight.

I don't generally think much about birds. I get very excited every year when my pair of swallows comes back from Africa to nest in my shed, and I once almost fainted in delight when I saw a kingfisher flying low over the burn, so iridescent that I could not believe it was quite real. Down the road, at my sister's house, a gang of swifts arrives each spring; they spend all the summer quarrelling and flirting and mustering as if for some important event. Someone told me once that they do everything on the wing: sleep, eat, have sex. It must be exhausting. But apart from these momentary glimpses of glory, I do not consider the birds. It turns out, I discover, that they really are descended from dinosaurs. I always thought that was an urban myth. (Must, must, must brush up on my evolutionary biology.) It also turns out that no one can agree on how flight evolved, which I did not know. It is thirty years since we put a man on the moon; a device the size of a pack of cards can store 100,000 books; satellites can pluck words and pictures from the very air; and yet we still do not know how birds learnt to fly. There are four theories apparently, and even the very best scientists cannot choose between them. One day, some clever person will work it out. In the meantime, my little startled Great Tit is a miraculous mystery, as it flies off into the blue.

The bird, recovering:

bird 003

bird 014

And a bonus shot of the burn, in today's lovely misty morning, with vivid dogwood in the foreground:

bird 026


  1. Oh T - what a lovely and uplifting post on such a shitty day - and miraculous photos.

    I really am not a bird person - apart from the ducks we used to breed for the pond, which are so lovely feeding out of your hand (but i used to loathe the partridges that used to panic and fly against the wire) and my mother's chickens. In fact - even not so much them - Ma used to have a cockerel named Attila the Hen, rescued from a cruel farmer who use to taunt him through cage wire; he took it out on my sister and I by chasing us - spurs first - out of the field - horrendous.

    But for all that, i take huge delight in the birds and our robin beavering away (mixed met) at our bird feeder and coconut halves hanging on the fence. We even have a jay, which is such a rarety in SE London. Although the pigeons eating my cabbage I could do without.

  2. A lovely post and great pictures, though I am with your regarding birds. I don't like the look or feel of their feet in particular. (I know this is weird) Husband goes on about having chickens but the thought of looking after them and having to touch their feet just sends shivers down my spine.


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