This is a rather sad and somewhat graphic story, so be warned.
I was standing at the large window that overlooks our garden a couple of weeks ago, watching a little robin bathing in the bird bath. The evening breeze was ruffling the trees and birdsong was in the air. Suddenly the robin darted into the hedge and as I was wondering what had startled it, one of the collared doves that live in the garden delicately flew down towards the overhanging tree right by the window. As I watched her, mid-glide, just four or five feet from me, something fast and ruthless swept past right by me and the dove seemed to explode into a puff of feathers. A young sparrowhawk had grabbed her and, within an instant, was on the ground in front of me, ripping the struggling dove to pieces as she struggled, pale grey feathers flying everywhere.
I was undone.
The man said to let it be, with a bird of prey the damage is major and immediate and there would be no saving our gentle feathered friend. I couldn’t tear my eyes away and watched the sparrowhawk take his time and eat his fill. It’s difficult to play the role of observer when nature seems so cruel, but the ‘hawk needs to fill his belly the same as any other bird I suppose. I have had a close encounter with a sparrowhawk before, an older female possibly looking to feed her young; it’s likely this young male was her offspring. It’s just that that very afternoon, the man and I had been sitting on the couch watching the dove and her mate canoodling on the fence in front of us. The gentle creatures seemed to be kissing and cuddling and then kissing again as part of their mating play, and it had made us smile and want to hold hands.
A couple of weeks ago I was tap-tap-tapping away in my little ‘studio’ when suddenly the lovely birdsong that accompanies the rhythm of our lives morphed into a shrieking cacophony more suited to a certain Hitchcock film. It felt as if every bird in the sky had realized the end was nigh and begun screaming in unison. Lily and I jumped and ran to the back door to the garden, not really sure what was going on. I pulled open the door, Lily at my heels, and we were both suddenly frozen as we saw on the ground right in front of us a sparrowhawk, wings surrounding its prey and with another little fluffy body of a recently fledged starling nearby. It looked at me with that eye (oh, that eye!) and I was completely hypnotized – had I been a fluffy bunny that would have been the end of me I expect.
After what seemed like a while, though I expect was barely a couple of seconds, the bird took off and Lily sprung into action towards the spot where the sparrowhawk had been. I yelled at her to get away and she took off towards the end of the garden leaving me at the scene. Looking at the patch of grass vacated by the predator I saw the second of the little starlings get up and lurch, bloodied and spurting red, towards the cover of a nearby hedge where it collapsed and died. As I stood there, completely horror-struck by the whole episode, I may have let out a little scream myself (okay, okay – so am lily-livered city girl…*blush*).
Of course I could do nothing but fret until the man of the wilds came home and ‘dealt with it,’ admonishing me for having interrupted the female sparrowhawk (of course he knew it was) sorting out a meal for her little fledgelings back in the nest. To rub it in, he pointed out that she’d probably have to go ‘off’ a few more starling chicks in order to feed her family, the death of these little ones having been in vain (though he did leave them for cat/fox by the fence and, sure enough, just a tuft of feathers by the morning).
So I failed. My first encounter with Nature in her fiery glory and I played stupid rabbit *sigh*.Will now have to sit through a lot more Attenborough on Eden to compensate. But, at least I made a cool sparrowhawk picture to illustrate since I wasn’t really quick or calm enough to take a photograph. The feather textures are actually from a photo I took of a pair of duckies by the river, tee hee. Hope you like it.
And if you enjoyed my tale of woe – here’s another on the topic by Derek Neimann in the Guardian, also taking place in Bedfordshire.