Dear Readers, as I was saying earlier this week, the fledgling starlings are the most wide-eyed innocents I’ve ever seen. While everyone else is alarm calling and flying for safety, they often stay perched, looking around to see what all the fuss was about. But there is no call more blood-chilling than that of a young starling in the jaws of a cat, or under the talons of a bird of prey, so when I heard the familiar keening on Tuesday morning I rushed to the window to see what was happening and there, sure enough, was a sparrowhawk standing on a screaming starling.
This didn’t surprise me, though it saddened me – the sparrowhawks have an unerring sense of when there’s easy pickings, though it’s amazing that they can navigate through the tangle of buildings and trees to strike. This is, I think, a male (apologies for the blurry shot, it was the only one I got a chance to take), and he probably has babies in the nest somewhere himself.
What did surprise me, though, was the behaviour of the other animals. Firstly, I was too slow to catch a squirrel on camera, but it approached within striking range of the sparrowhawk. I knew that squirrels were omnivores who will eat carrion, eggs and baby birds if they get the chance, but to try to steal prey from a sparrowhawk seemed pretty daring. However, I’m pretty sure that the squirrel that I saw has babies in the nest, so she probably needs all the protein she can get.
And then, the squirrel ran for it and one of the pair of magpies who’ve been haunting the garden landed. It’s actually bigger than the sparrowhawk and has much more attitude – it would have stolen the newly-expired starling from right under the hawk’s foot. By this stage the raptor seemed to have had enough, as it took off vertically with the starling dangling from one foot and headed off over the rooftops to eat its food in peace.
And a strange, eerie peace descended on the garden, as it always does when a sparrowhawk has paid a visit, but within half an hour everybody was back. Normally all the baby starlings emerge at once, but it’s been a bit more spread out this year, which I think favours the predators who can pick them off more easily. I also worry that I haven’t yet been inundated with youngsters, but maybe that will come later. At any rate, it was a bit less like Disneyland and a bit more like ‘When Animals Attack’ in the garden today, and I’ll be very glad when things get a little less dramatic.