April 26th   Leave a comment

There is a blackbird pair that has been feeding chicks in our back garden since last week. The male blackbird is particularly fearless and if there is any digging being done it flies down and feeds close by. So close that we could notice that it had a stick stuck to it – poking out of its side as if it was impaled. And then its fearlessness became perhaps an indication of an injured bird, foregoing safety to feed at all costs because it was finding it tough going. I have a licence to catch blackbirds so put up a mist net alongside the hedge where the nest was so that I could hopefully catch the male and do something about its apparent injury. This was last Sunday when it was very windy so it wasn’t very successful: a mist net works because it is not visible and if it is flapping about in the wind nothing will be foolish enough to go near it. The male regarded the net a long time as it approached the nest with a beak full of ivy berries and then went round it. I furled the net (tightly rolled so it can’t catch anything) and left it in place for the blackbird to get used to coming and going to the nest past the net. Then early next morning I unfurled the net again and caught the blackbird within a few minutes. If a bird is going somewhere predictably, and it doesn’t get more predictable than going back and forth to a nest, then catching it – when there isn’t a wind – is easy. I extracted the blackbird from the net and was pleasantly surprised to find the stick was a fine rose twig, covered in thorns, but only deeply entangled in the blackbird’s belly feathers. Blackbirds have a particularly thick downy layer under their contour feathers which provides some protection if they are grabbed by a sparrowhawk – the feathers get grabbed and pulled out sometimes rather than the hawk getting actual hold of the blackbird. I have seen a blackbird grabbed in flight by a sparrowhawk, seeming to explode in a puff of downy feathers as this happened. The puff of feathers may even have further confused the hawk like squid ink, allowing the blackbird to slip out of the hawk’s grip and away to cover. Anyway, this adaptation was not so good in the case of a twisted and thorny rose twig, which stuck to the down like velcro. I had to cut it out of the feathers. I let the blackbird go straight away, hopefully improved by the experience. And the story has a final happy ending. It was back feeding its chicks later in the morning, it is still doing so today and it is still as fearless as ever. Normally interventions to “save” a bird don’t go well but this one did. I look forward to seeing the male blackbird’s chicks fledging in due course, although the very cold weather of the last few days may be a new woe for the male.

Male blackbird – the thornless variety

There was lovely visibility tonight out to sea. Cold and little wind so no hint of a heat haze. Lots of kittiwakes going past and my first manx shearwater of the summer.

Posted April 26, 2017 by wildcrail in Sightings

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