Dear Readers, I wonder if any of you have noticed your local wildlife behaving extremely strangely during this past few weeks? For example, a magpie has been swooping down into my whitebeam tree every morning in a most very predatory way, resulting in all the starlings flying out in a most agitated state. Sometimes I see the magpie chasing the other birds with a steely glint in its eye, but it isn’t the most agile of birds so there is no obvious damage so far. I dread to think what will happen when the fledgling starlings blunder out into the world in a few weeks though, with their wide-eyed innocence and complete lack of common sense.
I imagine that the closure of Kentucky Fried Chicken (and all the other takeaway shops) has had a dreadful impact on the food supply of many critters. What are the foxes doing these days, I wonder? I know that earlier this week I had an entire family of jackdaws in the garden munching on the suet pellets, and they are usually seen eating chips and looking a bit shifty at the top of my road. And what the feral pigeons are eating instead I have no idea. At any rate, it’s open house in my garden, and so that brings me to this extremely confident squirrel who was eating the sunflower seeds from the bird feeder yesterday evening.
You can’t see it in this photo, but I’m pretty sure that this squirrel is a mother – she looked to me as if she had some milk. This would be completely in keeping with their usual patterns – grey squirrels give birth in the spring (from February to April) and the older, more experienced females might breed again in the late summer (July to September). You’ve probably seen those big messy dreys in the top of trees: they are an untidy mass of leaves from the outside, but are often lined with moss and even the mother’s own fur. The babies are completely helpless when they’re born, and while a normal litter is three kits, an unfortunate mother can have up to eight babies, who would certainly keep her busy.
I love how ‘chatty’ grey squirrels are: they can be extremely fierce and I have often been told off by one for some trespass or bad behaviour that I was completely unaware of. You can hear a slightly irritated squirrel at the link below. I used to hear this and mistake it for a bird.
And finally, one of my favourite saints is (of course) St Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals. He once spoke of a visitation with a squirrel, and this was paraphrased by poet Daniel Ladinsky. I love the way that it seems to capture the essence of the busy squirrel, and of the saint. See what you think.
I once spoke to my friend, an old squirrel, about the Sacraments—
he got so excited
and ran into a hollow in his tree and came
back holding some acorns, an owl feather,
and a ribbon he had found.
And I just smiled and said, “Yes, dear,
I too wonder what the ‘town vagrants’ that frequented car parks, picnic areas and take-away places are eating – no soup kitchens or food parcels for them. Lovely photographs of ‘your’ squirrel.
I wonder too. The magpies here in the semi-rural part of Somerset in which I live are definitely eating suet pellets that drop out of the feeders and pillaging the bird table. The squirrel does the most scary leap from the terrace down to the plate of bird food I’ve put on top of the garden waste bin, a drop of about 6ft and over a similar horizontal distance. And the jackdaws swing wildly off the squirrel-proof bird feeder and empty it. But they need to feed their young too and I’m glad that just as lockdown started, I did a mega-purchase of bird food from RSPB! I’ve had such pleasure seeing every day, for a good few days now, the 2 blackbird fledglings who bully their dad mercilessly for food, even though they’re now capable and he is looking threadbare. And a few wheezy baby blue tits, who really are a bit daft. We have a sparrowhawk that comes to the garden every now and then, I’m praying that he stays away for a bit, I last saw it about 2 weeks ago; I’m always amazed at the utter hush that falls when he’s around and how, when he leaves, the world starts singing again.
And I just noticed that, on our road, children are playing in the street again because they are so few cars. Are we suddenly going back to the 1950’s, I wonder?
Two years ago I watched a pair of magpies grab a fledgeling starling from our neighbour’s chimney pot and have a tug of war with it. The victor then flew off carrying the still flapping starling. I haven’t seen the baby starlings out yet this year.
No, I reckon they’ll be out in a couple of weeks here in London. And I remember seeing a jay take a fledgling starling by one wing and batter it to death on the shed opposite too. These sudden moments of ultra-violence are always shocking, even though it’s just part of nature…
It’s an interesting thought what all the critters are doing without their junk food….