Ordinary Beauties

IMG_4651Dear Readers, I have been away from home for most of the past four weeks, and was struggling to find a subject for the Saturday blog this week. Then, I topped up the bird feeders and the subject found me, as it always does if I keep my eyes open. At this time of year, some of the birds are as beautiful as they’ll be at any time until next spring. All these photos were taken through my kitchen window, which is draped with cobwebs and coated with dust (housekeeping not being a strong point), so please forgive me if the quality isn’t quite what it might be.

IMG_4645Just look at the starlings, who are finally coming into their full adult plumage. Their feathers are as iridescent as oil, and they are spangled with the white spots that give them their name. ‘Starling’ means ‘little star’, and each one carries a constellation on his or her chest and back.The birds that are visiting the garden now have survived the dangerous fledgling stage, and are  about to experience their first winter. If they make it through ( and they stand more chance in the town than in the country) they will be breeding again in April next year. And so the world turns.

IMG_4616There was a blue tit on the suet feeder as well. What a bright little puffball this bird is – bright blue, sherbet lemon and olive green. They seem so full of energy and verve, on the go all the time. In order for a bird this small to survive when the temperature falls below zero, they need all the energy-rich food that they can get. It is vital to keep those bird-feeders topped up where possible, so that the birds can put on the fat that they’ll need to survive the cold. The last thing they need to worry about is too many calories – flying is such an energetic activity that they can never have too many while they’re in the wild.

IMG_4658And there were sparrows, too. The back of a sparrow is an exercise in copper and chocolate, and looks like old-fashioned polished mahogany.

IMG_4652 (2)

And, as we know, sparrows are becoming scarcer and scarcer. Those of us who have them visit the garden should feel privileged to have a creature in such decline popping by. As with the starlings, these ‘common’ birds are no longer ‘common’, and so when I look at them I feel a special pang. Those of us who have been around for a bit remember when it seemed impossible that they should ever be in danger, and it’s poignant to think of what has already been lost.

IMG_4630Of course, it’s not all gloom and doom. Two collared doves are in my hawthorn tree, popping down the berries as if they were sweeties. I wonder if they can taste sweet and sour, because the haws always seem tough and astringent to me. These are birds who have increased greatly in number in my lifetime, and they have a special kind of beauty too, their feathers as soft and grey as clouds. They have a delicate elegance that makes me think that they are most fitted to the genteel suburbs, and indeed they are rarely seen in the centre of town, and are most unlikely to breed there.

IMG_4626In the hornbeam there’s a single hen chaffinch, waiting patiently for the woodpigeons and squirrel to clear off so she can get some sunflower seeds. The calls of finches are the soundtrack for any walk along my road at the moment – the ‘pink,pink’ calls of chaffinches, the more melodious chiming of the goldfinches. It’s a familiar music that makes me feel that I’m at home, finally, even if it’s only a short time until I’m off again. I often feel that absence heightens my senses, makes me see my ‘territory’ anew. And so, although I shall feel weary as I pack my suitcase yet again, I know that wherever I go, there will still be things to be curious about – the song of a bird, a weed by the side of the road, the buzz of an insect. There is always something new to discover, whether on the birdfeeder at home or in an office park. And each new discovery enlarges our sense of the world, and our part in it.


10 thoughts on “Ordinary Beauties

    1. Bug Woman

      Thank you, Maria! Yep, both birds are in serious decline, due to a combination of habitat destruction (both are communal nesters), lack of food and the general urge to keep London ‘tidier’. When I was growing up, starlings roosted in Leicester Square and on the islands in St James’s Park – you could sit and watch them flying in from all directions on an autumn evening, it was one of the great natural spectacles of the capital. Now, they’re all gone. And no one knows exactly why, though I suspect it’s a combination of the factors mentioned above.

      On the other hand, I suppose we do have ring-necked parakeets, which were unheard of when I was a child.

      1. Anna

        I remember the starlings in Leicester Square, too. I also remember that Westminster council installed alarm wires that made a horrible shrieking noise when the birds landed on them, and the birds all left. I suppose the council was fed up with cleaning up bird poo, but it’s a shame.

        I often think that if my younger self had been told that London would one day be inundated with little green parrots, I’d never have believed it — it still kind of sounds like something from a story…

      2. Bug Woman

        Hi Anna, yes, I agree about the parakeets, I still do a double take when I see them flying through the wood. And I didn’t know about the alarm wires, thank you for the info. It feels to me as if the city is becoming more and more sanitised – we’re getting rid of all the animals and people that made it interesting.

    1. Bug Woman

      They like my very expensive sunflower seeds, Ann. Don’t seem to bothered about the nyger, although they are supposed to love them. It might be because I’ve got a blooming great big tree?

  1. babogbeag

    Beautiful post. I enjoy the visits of “my” birds up here on the fifth floor. When I moved here I thought the birds would not bother coming so high. Blue tits, sparrows and bullfinches with a very occaisional crow. The crows prefer following me and my fellow dog walkers begging for the tidbits normally used to train our dogs. My son was “bombed” when he took the dog out for a walk after being away for over 7 months, I had forgotten to tell him of the crows and they recognised the dog as being associated with food and decided to attract the attention of the human with him. My son decided to just get away quickly and wondered why German crows had become so aggressive (though aggression was not really there). my son now understands “crowish” and feeds them when requested to.

    1. Bug Woman

      Hi Babogbeag, what a fascinating story about the crows, they are such intelligent birds. I am glad that your son now understands ‘crowish’. I remember once watching some crows chase a greyhound through the trees in Green Park here in London – I had the distinct feeling that they were teasing him, but the dog didn’t seem to see it that way!

  2. Anne Guy

    We never see sparrows or starlings here in the Worcestershire countryside so thanks for an extra Ordinary post beautifully observed and written…I keep thinking of the puffball blue tits!!


Leave a Reply