Guess you may have been wondering where I’ve been.
My life has been subject to blackbirds. Comings and goings have all been closely monitored, and commented upon, usually loudly. To venture out through my door, for a while, became almost a crime, punishable by pain in the eardrums.
They have been nesting in the honeysuckle by the front door. I didn’t realise to start with until, looking out through the window one evening, I noticed the female with a huge beakful of grass and twigs, determinedly poking about in the leaves beside the window. To put this position into perspective, the nest was built at my eye level, halfway between the door and the front window, less than a metre from the door itself. Going in and out, I found myself confronted by a beady stare: what are you doing now? How dare you?
I guessed she was laying eggs after a week. Blackbirds have nested in the garden before, but usually without success; on the window-ledge, they were ousted by the jackdaws, in the fuchsia bush they gave up when it was very windy. Now there were two birds, taking turns in brooding whatever lay in the cup of the nest. I resisted the temptation to look and see how many eggs they had – if she wasn’t sitting when I went out, she was lurking in the bushes and chuntering at me, an under-the-breath muttering of ‘well, get on with it, go to work, go away’ that was oddly compelling. In the evenings I watched them through the window, high-fiving with wingtips as they changed over brooding duty. They are not very elegant birds, and did everything with a great fuss and kerfuffle.
Then came the day I saw her coming into the nest with a huge caterpillar. I rang Mum: ‘we have babies!!’ The female did most of the work, aided occasionally by her more laid-back mate, who seemed to expend most of his energies on singing from the TV aerial, announcing his territorial claims to the other blackbirds down the road, who tend to dispute his ownership of my small garden.
Feeding continued apace, more and more caterpillars sacrificed to growing young. I wanted to blog, to tell everyone, but had the uneasy feeling that to do so would be the kiss of death, so kept quiet. One evening, there was a great scuffling in the honeysuckle, a flurry of wings and an inexpert flapping. They had fledged. As is the way with blackbirds, they immediately hid, and kept very quiet, except when the youngsters tried to fly – this was more a controlled crashing around the shrubs. The starlings in the chimney fledged at around the same time and were nowhere near so discreet; flappings and shoutings and persistent demands for food from every rooftop and telephone wire. I think the blackbirds thought the neighbourhood had gone downhill.
I see them occasionally now, speckled brown and still inexpert, lurking around the garden, skulking amongst the plant pots. (I think there were at least two young raised.) My life is my own again, without the constant criticism.
A bit later in the year, I’ll take the old nest down, and use it at work to show the children how it’s done. Maybe they’ll try again next year.