Secret dramas

For the garden birds, the breeding season is well under way. But the drama is also well hidden.

A goldfinch gathering wool for its nest (photo taken in late April)

I’ve been expecting my tree sparrows to disappear for some weeks now – that’s what they did last year, anyway. But no, they’ve been merrily using the garden as if they have nothing else but eating, chirping, fighting and sleeping on their mind.

The blackbirds have been more in the swing of things. Several birds became very tame this year, but they made no obvious indication they were feeding chicks until just a few days before fledging. I think all the blackbird nests fledged at the same time, because for one incredibly brief period I caught glimpses of live fledgelings, or sadly, full views of half eaten ones. After a few days of skulking around, all the blackbirds are now busy collecting food, so I’m guessing they all have young in the nest again. No juvenile birds have turned up though – either they’re still hiding or they all got eaten.

I think with the blackbirds I only noticed obvious ‘collecting for chicks’ behaviour because they give their chicks natural food until right at the point of fledging, when they switch to the much-easier-to-gather food that I put out for them. I’ll keep a closer eye out on the second round of chicks to see if I can predict fledging this way.

Back to the tree sparrows: while the house sparrows loudly occupied their nesting spots ages ago, the tree sparrows only started to drift off about two weeks ago. I didn’t really notice anything, but there was just less bird activity in the garden to notice. Just as I think the sparrows must have finally dispersed to establish their nest sites, I stumble upon an actual tree sparrow nest. With very noisy young. So they’ve been quietly nesting for ages!

Tree sparrow nest. The adults were very nervous so I didn't hang around

Now I’m watching the remaining tree sparrows more closely, wondering where they’ve chosen to nest, and I can really see their behaviour has changed. No longer a hive mind, each bird is acting as an individual. The food is depleting at the same speed as usual, but instead of bursts of activity from forty flock members, there is now a trickle of quiet feeding from a few individuals. And I’ve seen them hunting for insects in the lawn.

I’m now, after a whole winter’s absence, getting house sparrows visiting. They display brilliantly the difference in character between the house and tree sparrow: while the tree sparrows fret and panic at a silhouette in the window, the house sparrows merrily tuck into their grub while I’m still hanging up the feeders.

This week the garden is getting busy again. And just out of sight, the secret dramas continue to play out.


About Yasmine

After working with horses for many years I came to my senses and got a 'proper job'. I now live in Weardale with My Taller Half, a mad border collie and 5 chickens. Still wishing I could spend all my time in the great outdoors
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