Sunday, 2 June 2013

When blackbirds fight back

'Err, I don't know how to get down.'
It’s all well and good watching vultures tear a distinctly deceased rabbit apart when there’s the safety of a nice, substantial wire fence between you and them, and being able to observe that the old cliché about nature being red in tooth and claw is true.

But such bloodiness is hardly limited to zoos. And here, in little old Hackney, there’s been a fair bit of it in recent days.

The periphery of the carpark has been, for the last week or so, an avian maternity ward.

Never before have there been so many bird families nursing young and watching over them as they fledge – it’s almost like the flats themselves: more obvious results of human fecundity than ever before.

But for cats, the presence of all these birds is like having Christmas, Easter, summer holidays and birthdays all arrive at once.

Back around 2006, when Boudi was about two and a half, and Mack and Trickie were still alive, we were all out in the garden one day, under a rather pallid sky.

The garden in those days was less patio and more just mess, overgrown with various short-lived and halfhearted efforts at anything resembling the horticultural arts.

The older cats were slumbering when, all of a sudden, Boudi jumped up at the rose bush and just as rapidly, dived in the direction of the flat, with something clearly in her mouth.

The Other Half grabbed her by the scruff and made her drop a small bird, then hoiked her inside and shut the door on her juvenile objections.

As the bird made to totter into a bush, Trickie came out of her reverie and realised that prey was around.

She was duly tossed inside too, to be rapidly followed by Mack, who, at around 14, had been the last to spot what was going on, and had started to slink toward the feathered abductee with a glint in his eye.

The Other Half, being rather more used to this sort of thing, said it was probably on its last legs and I’d need to put it out of its misery.


I got a spade, but it had no desire for a quick end, and instead kept hopping away in a manner that suggested that it was far from in agreement with his diagnosis.

After a few minutes, I decided to leave it – not least since I was, by then, being divebombed by a very angry robin.

Once inside, with the cats all complaining, the same robin took up a position atop the rotary drier and continued to ‘bark’ out a warning for the next hours.

In the meantime, other adult robins swooped in to help coax the fledgling first onto a chair, then onto the little table and from there into the thick pyracantha right next to it.

And then, until nightfall, they flew back and forth taking it food.

In the morning, they’d all gone, so presumably, the fledgling had regained its strength back and learned how to fly instead of simply falling conveniently within jaw range of a cat.

It was an extraordinary example of a family working to save their little one.

And that was the last time that we had any sort of bird incident.

Before that, there’d just been one occasion when Mack and his sister Mabel had ‘found’ a small bird and brought it into the flat, causing the feather to fly rather more than metaphorically.

That had been my first encounter with such an event and I had been all rather desperate and girly about it.

A certain more realistic steeliness had set in by the time we rescued the robin fledgling.

And that was that on the bird front – until last weekend.

Then, while we all sitting in the Sunday afternoon sun, as though summer had landed all of a sudden, Loki bombed in through the open gate and straight into the flat.

I got inside to find her in the hall with a small bird on the floor in front of her.

Boudi had materialised from somewhere and was reaching out a careful paw to see if it still moved.

We shooed them away and carefully picked it up and took it back outside.

It was breathing heavily but with no obvious signs of external injury. So The Other Half placed it in bushes and we hauled the pride inside, to the predictable objections.

It was only then that I realised that the noise of birds, which has been quite loud of late anyway, had been particularly frantic at that stage.

We checked later and the bird was gone. So, we allowed ourselves to think, another happy ending.

Unfortunately, just 24 hours later, it was Otto’s turn to race into the garden and behind a large pot. We went to see what she was up to and she shot into the flat, to be scragged quickly by The Other Half, who made her drop her prize.

It’s impossible to know for certain that it was the same bird, but it did look so – a sparrow fledgling. And this time it was most certainly deceased.

There were drops of blood on the paving stones – hardly surprising, given that Otto’s canines are so long that I half suspect she’s actually a Dracula cat.

We disposed safely of the bird and kept them in for the rest of the day, while the noise outside continued.

Since then, though, the weather and my illness meant that, until this weekend, the girls haven’t been outside.

Not that all this is remotely as one-sided as you might imagine.

Mr and Mrs Blackbird were, only a year since, squawking away in juvenile joy from the lithe silver birches in the carpark, and are now quite clearly a family unit.

No baby has been spotted, but Mr B has been seen rooting worms from the potager – and hectoring any cat (or human) who comes ‘too close’. Like some of our more colourful ackney residents, he was giving it large to all and sundry.

And in the week’s most extraordinary moment, he chased off Reggie, who had only reggiecide on his feline mind, dive-bombing the big ginger cat until he fled through the carpark gates.

So this weekend, whenever they’ve been out, we’ve been extra attentive, listening for any sound of avian anger.

Mind, Loki is clearly working to convince me that nominative determinism really exists.

It’s only just over a week since she managed to get up onto the balcony of the flat above ours – my back was briefly turned so I can only speculate on how she did it.

Once up there, the sense of accomplishment was soon replaced by another feeling.

“Loki, come down!”

“I don’t know how to!”

“Well … how did you get up there in the first place?”

“I can’t remember! Im stuck!

She paced rather frantically from one side of the small balcony to the other, meeping in an increasingly paniced way, before suddenly deciding that she could simply jump straight down, landing perfectly lightly, and then making her way into the flat as though nothing untoward had happened.

Yesterday, I found her on top of the canopy that stands next to one of the rear communal entrances, trying to see if she could see any birds in a tree next to it.

But hopefully, a rather quieter weekend is the sign that the fledglings have all fledged or perished in the attempt.

Before I sign off, Boudi wishes me, in the interests of balance, to point out that, a year or so after the robin affair, she actually caught three mice in the flat, over the course of a week or so, and left each one dead, but still in one piece, on the doormat so that, when we got home, we would be sure to find them.

The feline hunting instinct isn’t always a negative thing to be tempered as much as possible.

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