Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Birds.

It must be that time of year again for I have noticed a distinct flurry of activity in the garden. The younger magpies have been very busy building a rather large untidy nest on the opposite side of the garden from the blackbirds. This current arrangement seems to suit no one. The resident magpies who own the roof and are nesting in next door's firs are outraged by the close proximity. And they're not the only ones. Certainly the new Mrs Blackbird has been most vocal about it (she's a bit of a hussy the new one, bigger than last year's model and more bossy. I doubt she is braver though, having witnessed last years Mrs Blackbird diving bombing the Marklar in a valiant but fruitless effort to protect her chick, poor old thing, I think she was next for the high jump too, the Marklar is stupid but an efficient killer)
I don't know a whole lot about birds, but it had been my very great pleasure to get to know some of the motley crew that inhabit my garden. My desk faces the window see, and I gaze over the top of my computer and slip into the avian soap-opera on a regular basis.
My garden is surrounded by thick hedges and mature trees, which seems to suit the birds very much. I feed them all year around, taking great are to toss their food in the very centre of the lawn, lest a bored cat might be lying in wait under the foliage.
There's quite a collection of them these days. I have the black birds, magpies, the starlings, finches, wood pigeons and a very small but highly aggressive robin. I'm also under the flight path of a grey and black heron who cruises by daily on his way to the Dodder and who landed on the roof on the shed the other week causing absolute UPROAR with the magpies who saw him off with all the ferocity of a pack of dogs.
The magpies are funny, loud rambinctious little thugs. They think they own the place. They take the food out of the garden and store it in the gutter of next door's greehouse. They've actually become quite tame over the year and gawk in at me as I work. Sometimes they even land as I'm putting out the bread.

My favourite bird is The God Pigeon. He calls in every afternoon about two, landing with a thump, ready to stuff his belly with brown bread-he forgos white. He's a chunky grey and white bird with a distinct limp. Sometimes he comes with a pal, but mostly alone. He'll stroll along the perimeter of the lawn first, peering intently under the bushes before taking his place at the banquet. He's smart that one, and had more than one encounter with the Bigger of the Cats. I do worry about him though. It take him a it of a while to get airborne and one of these days he's going to come a cropper.

The blackbirds are always at war with the magpies, but this year is more peaceful than the last, possibly because the magpies have their own bigger problems.
I am rarely bothered by crows, you get the occasional few here and there, but really they don't make much of an impression. However in the last few weeks two of the grey and black variety have shown up late morning. These birds are large with huge beaks and an ugly disposition. They seem fearless and strut around like bully boys. The magpies take them on- indeed I'm starting to think of the magpies as the jack russells of the bird world- but the crows always come back.
The robin lives right outside my window in a think briar filled blackberry bush with his super shy missus. I don't know if she lives there all year or not, but he does. He lands every day on the back of a wrought iron chair and surveys his kingdom. He's tini-tiny not much bigger than a golf ball really, but he sings and sings and he is a ferocious defender of his patch. I call him Napoleon.
I'm hoping this years crop of babies escape the attentions of the cats. The cats are locked in every night and early morning when the birds are settling and rising, which helps I suppose. But there's always going to be a risk, especially when the young start to learn how to fly.
As I type right this second the robin has bounced out onto a thick briar strand, he is fluffing himself up for some grand aria or other.
Oh Napolean, what a voice you have. You're like a little Joe Dolan.



Blogger Conan Drumm said...

One of my pusses was a magpie killer, brought them in the flap. They generally nest just a bit ahead of the other birds so that they will have a plentiful food source for their young. Btw, they're not indigenous, there were virtually no magpies in Ireland fifty years ago.

10:36 a.m.  
Blogger fatmammycat said...

Puddy hates them too and sits in the window chattering at them.
But not indigenous, really? Where did they come from? And wow, there's so many of them now. A bit like grey squirrels I suppose.

10:49 a.m.  
Blogger Conan Drumm said...

I think they came across from the Continent via Britain. And yup, they're everywhere now but the density in Dublin does seem huge.

10:53 a.m.  
Blogger fatmammycat said...

They're pretty social I think, so that probably gives them an edge in terms of territory overlap. There's huge groups of them in Bushy park, you can see them on the pitches, and they operate like a gang. Pretty nasty bunch they can be. Although They were VERY ruffled by the black and greys the other day. I never realised there was so many different variations of crows either. The black and grey guys are massive and very fierce.

10:57 a.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Magpies are very intelligent birds as are all corvids (crows), they pose a very big threat to the Irish song bird population. Some people say they are much malinged, but having witnessed a pair tear assunder a nest of young songthrushes last year, I can say from first hand experience that they are killers. Ok, so they kill for food, but I'd prefer if they didn't kill something so beautiful. I think that their numbers should be reduced through culling.
The robin are ferocious little birds and highly aggressive. You have your resident Robin aptly named FMC. For that is exactly how he sees himself, Napoleon, king of his little patch. Interestingly as soon as his brood is reared, he will also chase them off the patch.

Back to the magpies, they have been in Ireland since the 16th century, but certainly their numbers are on the increase, urbanistaion, easy food and roadkill, being their chief aid, of course a our garden birds also make a tasty morsel. If their numbers were not so large, they would not pose such a threat.
I am glad to see you have your cats under control!!!

11:03 a.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The magpies know where the nests of the other birds are by just sitting and watching the activity of the other birds in the garden, as they go about their business, in and out of their nest sites, unwittingly giving away their position to the beady eyed one.

It has been proven that Magpies (and crows) have cognitive thought and some give them the basic intelligence of a three year old chils. I wouldn't disagree with this at all.

My favourite garden bird is the wren, I have watched a pair busy building a nest, well actually carrying material for the past few days, stripping plumes from pampas grass and carrying loads much bigger than themselves. They sing so loudly for their small size and like they say about a terrier, being a big dog trapped in a small body, the wren is similiar.

Sorry for being such a bore fmc, but I wish more people would look out their windows like you and see all the activity and life in their gardens.

11:11 a.m.  
Blogger fatmammycat said...

Funny you should mention killing the song birds, they tried very hard to kill the black birds last year here, there was absolute war. But the Black birds have their nest in a really dense bush that I try to leave alone during the nesting season, so they can't access it.
You're right, their numbers are amazing.

11:12 a.m.  
Blogger fatmammycat said...

Oh wrens! We used to have at home who lived in a holly bush and he would sing his little heart out. Amazingly loud for such a tiny bird and so many different trills and whistles.

11:17 a.m.  
Blogger Andraste said...

I'm impressed. I know a robin from a bluejay, and a few other birds, but I couldn't name half the birds I see and hear around here every day. It's a cacophany out there, and we even have large groups of Canada geese swarming overhead on their way to the river and such - and the occasional sea gull - but to know them well enough to know specific birds and their personalities...I wish I did.

But all this bird talk makes me wonder - I'm about to start planting my garden for this year, and I'd like to attract some song birds. Do you know any particular plants or flowers that attract them?

The bugs, I know what to do about. Planting some butterfly bushes and some alyssum to attract the right bugs to the herb garden...the ones that eat the bad bugs like aphids and such. But with the birds, I don't know where to start...

12:26 p.m.  
Blogger Medbh said...

We have a bunch of pigeons nesting on the roof over our bedroom and they are fucking loud. Once the sun is up their racket forces you out of bed.
I was invested in watching a pair of birds nest outside our front door years ago. They laid and sat on 4 eggs. All the babies died falling from the nest. I was depressed for weeks.

12:34 p.m.  
Blogger Twenty Major said...

Pigeons are utter, utter cunts.

1:09 p.m.  
Blogger fatmammycat said...

Bushes I reckon Andraste, holly and the like. The little birds seem to like them. But I'm no expert. I just happened to inherit a wildish garden with a thriving population of bird-life already in situ.

Yep Medbh, I know what you mean, you get so involved with it all. I felt awful about the marklar killing the baby blackbird last year. Nature can be cruel.

Twenty, it's been years, you've got to let it go.

1:56 p.m.  
Blogger Conan Drumm said...

"Pigeons are utter, utter cunts."

Only the town ones. Wood pigeons don't chase crisp packets around for a living like they're owed tuppence a bag, or summat.

2:00 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I usually wake up momentarily around 5 in the morning and had the hardest time getting back to sleep this morning. The last couple nights we've slept with the window open (finally!) and there is a bird or dozen that make the awfullest racket. I don't even know how to describe its song, but it's basically like those kids' toys that have a bell in them (like a Happy Apple, for example) being shaken violently. If this bird had a personality, I would peg it as a Joe Pesci in the Lethal Weapon franchise.

All of our birds seem so small by comparison to your magpies and crows. Maybe that's the price we pay for having such giant red squirrels.

2:05 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pigeons can be a nuisance in built up areas, no doubt about it. But the indigenous small bird population in built up areas are the remnants of the population from when the area was countryside and are a joy to have in the garden.
As regards attracting birds, as fmc says bushes, trees etc do the trick.
Yes Conan, Woodpigeons are nice and "not in yer face" unlike those feckin townie gurrier pigeons

2:08 p.m.  
Anonymous sheepworrier said...

Seagulls are the worst, without a doubt. The feathered bastards dive-bomb me regularly during nesting season. F**king flying spides.

2:12 p.m.  
Blogger fatmammycat said...

Weird thing about seagulls, they're always in Crumlin, there could be fifty to sixty of them out on a green near CG's house. Sometimes if I ring CG you'd swear he was at the beach they're kicking up such a racket.
They go for the little birds too, they're raptors I think and quite fond of meat.

2:18 p.m.  
Anonymous Sam, Problemchildbride said...

Seagulls are the Daleks of the sky. But by talking about them I am admitting they have some hold over me and I will not empower them like that.

We had some beautiful species in our garden in Minnesota: chickadees, cardinals, dark-eyed juncos, cedar wax-wings and all sorts.

Of these the cedar waxwings were the dummest, regularly braining themselves by flying into the windows. It was heartbreaking. I felt like I was Suburban Human in some Brecht play, encroaching on nature but unwilling to give up her windows. I fed them daily on a table my father made when he was over, far removed from the windows. I tried keeping them a bit grubby to stop them reflecting and looking like the other trees. I put a silhouette of a hawk in the window which helped a bit but they never really grasped the idea of windows. Except with their heads, poor things.

I spent a lot of tears on these beautiful wee dummies.

3:16 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Seagulls .... after spending a pleasant day foraging on the local tiphead/landfill they then fly into town to spread some botulism. But of course, us humans create the tipheads, so whos fault is it. Yes fmc, they will go for small birds if they can catch them , usually fledglings. Nature is a cruel business indeed and what a lot of perils your brave little Napoleon has to look out for, that on top of looking for food and raising a family as well.

SPchild, yeah that's sad about the birds breaking their necks on the windows, I hear that this is a major problem in Chicago and other places along migratory routes, with skyscrapers, especially at night.
In the domestic context, yep the silouette of a hawk usuallly works, or chimes, or ribbon etc. Dumb critters see the reflection of the trees and think the window is the garden.

Did you know that birds do not see colour as we humans do, they see UV instead, all to do with cones and rods in the eyes, blah blah, basically Napoleon the robin sees more than you might think fmc!!!

3:29 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

While at the beach, a seagull simultaneously grabbed the hamberger my friend was holding, and shit on him.

3:44 p.m.  
Blogger daisy mae said...

i've been trying (quite unsuccessfully) to lure birds into our backyard... even called on some expert bird-watchers (an old prof is an ornithologist). apparently i have a hostile backyard. however, with our new move into the country next month, coupled with grandiose garden plans, i'm hoping to get our own little gathering of birds....

3:56 p.m.  
Blogger fatmammycat said...

"basically Napoleon the robin sees more than you might think fmc!!!"
Eeek, I'm going to put up nets.

Sam that's a shame, poor things. I had a swallow fly into my old apartment two years ago. He was desperately trying to get out but the Bigger of the Cats got him before he could find his way backout.

Anonymous, that was some fine seagulling.

Daisy, first, good luck with the move! Second, I think you'll find plenty of bird action once your in the country.

4:02 p.m.  
Anonymous SeaDreams said...

Birding is endlessly entertaining and it forms a large part of the local economy, (google Cape May NJ, Audubon Society, World Series of Birding). Anyway, hang a feeder, and check out garden centers and nurseries, in person or on-line even. There is a wealth of information out there about attracting birds and butterflies and it's pretty easy & inexpensive to do. If you really want entertainment, depending where you live, hang a hummingbird feeder and plant some red flowers. No better way to waste time than watching them, guaranteed.

5:50 p.m.  
Blogger Medbh said...

Mr. M kept calling me Tony Soprano looking for his ducks the way I watched those birds, FMC.

And the seagulls here in Toronto could take down a small child they're so aggressive.

5:55 p.m.  
Anonymous madnessburgers said...

With the coming of sunny spring weather here in SF so the birds have come out chirping like ninety at the crack of dawn. The other day I heard one in the grogginess of waking up and realised that I recognised his call. It was only after her repeated it a couple of times that I recognised that he was singing a car alarm theme tune. Ye know, the one that changes every few notes, going up and down and then beeping at the end. It had me in stitches for the rest of the day...

7:07 p.m.  
Anonymous Nonny said...

I love the birdies they are gas characters to watch all together. I had lots of different birds visit the garden when I lived in the country but only a robin visits here, he is real territorial. Oh and a duck (I think). I live near the canal and the man next door told me they land in our back gardens because they have a shite sense of direction and misjudge their landing field. How true that is I don’t know. I also have the hens but they are in the house mostly. Some people are mean to the birdies, at the old house some of them black birds with yellow beck nesting in the roof of the shed. I didn’t give a shit when I lived there I loved watching the chicks learn to fly. It is one of the sweetest things indeed. But this moany fucker that rents the place now yaps on and on about how something needs to be done about them. I mean for the love of God, they’ll only be there a couple of weeks, the women has three kids it would answer her better to haul her bawling brats outside and teach them to appreciate such simple little things. Even when I told her it was illegal to disturb a next she still harped on about it.

I like seagulls as well, I swear they have different personalities all over the world, here they are fat and lazy. In Australia they are tiny, like the size of Magpies, if you have ever seen Finding Nemo were the all charge around shouting “mineminemineminemine” they are precisely like that.

My cat doesn’t concern himself with the feathery types he prefers small dogs and playing with the kids on the road. I would kick the arse off him if he caught a bird, I really would especially the little babeees. Do you not try and rescue the birds from you’re cats?

8:03 p.m.  
Anonymous nonny said...

"Did you know that birds do not see colour as we humans do, they see UV instead, all to do with cones and rods in the eyes"

One more thing how do you know this? How do you know a bird is colour blind? It's like saying cats cant see up close or dogs are colour blind and they are not. I never understood that.

8:11 p.m.  
Anonymous Sam, Problemchildbride said...

Nonny, I think it's to do with having the necessary structures to see colour or not. If an animal has no cones in its retina it has no capability with which to perceive colour.

Rods only "see" light and dark and are responsible for recognising movement and contrast. The higher the concentration of rods, the sharper the animal's sight. It explains why cats can see better in the dark than we can, and why they don't obey traffic lights.

8:57 p.m.  
Blogger fatmammycat said...

Evening folks. When I was writing this post this morning I did realise so many of us had an ornithological bent. It IS nice to take a moment out of the day and enjoy some nature, ain't it?

11:46 p.m.  
Blogger Medbh said...

This is something you will like, FMC:


11:59 p.m.  
Blogger PI said...

Our pigeons are at it like rabbits and the other day I found two small white eggs - broken - on the path. They sing on top of one of the chimneys but I was thrilled the other night when the pigeon was supplanted by the owl and I could just make out his shape in the gloaming. What a hoot!

6:30 a.m.  
Blogger fatmammycat said...

Hah Medbh, so descriptive.

Pat, you're up early. An owl, I've only ever seen one one in the flesh, amazing looking birds, lucky you. I wonder is that his area.

10:13 a.m.  
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10:36 a.m.  

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