It’s always Boris the Jackdaw who kicks things off on our bird table.
Strutting around with his feathers all over the place and thinking he’s jack the lad; sulking when no one pays him any attention, and then swooping on to the little structure on top and preening himself so that everyone notices him. His arrival in the vicinity signals an end to the normal serenity on the table, and trouble follows him like a bad smell. Boris thinks he rules the roost but, in reality, everyone hates him, as they have for years. They are even laughing behind his back.
They hate Michael the Collared Dove equally, but with less reason. We decided long ago that Michael has what my parents used to call ‘issues’; it’s all in the way that he tries to interact with the other birds, and how little it works. He arrives on the table with enthusiasm and bonhomie, behaves with impeccable politeness and wants to be everyone’s friend. He wobbles his head in an engaging way, and stares appealingly at the other birds feeding in the area. The problem for Michael is that no one is having any of it, and all his friendship routines are routinely snubbed. We have begun to suspect that something happened in the distant past, and no one has forgotten it. Michael has a wife that no one likes either.
The table itself is generally full of blue tits, coal tits, great tits and a handful of finches and nuthatches. Were it not for the presence of birds like Boris and Michael, you sense that they would get on with the business of eating and flitting around rather more effectively than they do. The odd blackbird visits (until it remembers that it eats worms, which are in the lawn, rather than nuts, which aren’t), as do thrushes and sparrows.
Out on the edge we have a feeder with nijer seed in it for the single issue goldfinches; it’s a great life being a goldfinch, rather akin to being in the SNP I suppose, as you can come and feed at someone else’s expense, at the same table as everyone else, and yet know that all the food is your own; by inference, they affect everyone else, but no one affects them.
Then there’s a sparrow hawk called Jeremy who has been circling around early in the morning recently, waiting for an opportunity to pick one or more of the blue tits off. Jeremy has one problem, though, and it seems to be an almost insurmountable one: he is shit at flying. Shit at most things in fact. I have watched him time after time dive down towards the blue tits massed on the table, sitting targets down to a man, only to bail out at the last minute because he hasn’t thought through the aerodynamics of what he is trying to do. Jeremy has a mate called Diane who he leaves up in the big oak trees in the park, possibly because he is fundamentally embarrassed about her, and one can see why. There is also an old buzzard called John who is just cuts this vaguely threatening figure sliding up and down on the wind, but never coming close enough to fully understand. I’m not sure of my ornithology, but I would say that the only bird that John would like to kill is Jeremy, and possibly Diane, but if I’m right, he’s biding his time. We never used to have buzzards round here.
Which leaves only Theresa, and we worry about her. She is a great-spotted woodpecker, and for months, she ruled the roost up here. She would fly in on elegant wing-beats to the peanut feeder, and everyone would give way to her. Strikingly coloured with the black and white barring and the Constable flash of red, we became used to her gaudy presence, and her mastery of the table. She fed when she wanted, and ate as as much as she wanted. But the months haven’t been kind to her, and she is much dowdier now and significantly more plain. Where once her arrival would signal a mass evacuation of the smaller birds, these days they just shift along a bit and look at her quizzically, sympathetically even. Even Jeremy had a go at her earlier in the week but it was yet another botched operation, and he retired to the top of his oak tree to pretend he had been trying to do something else all along.
So it’s kind of a balance between a great-spotted woodpecker that seems to have lost her mojo, and a sparrowhawk who never had one to lose in the first place.
So right now, like it or not, we’re calling it for the buzzard. Give it six months.