One of the delights of a garden is watching the birds as they raid the bird feeders and feast upon the aphids. At this time of year, there are babies too, taking their first flight from the nest, still reliant on their parents for food and guidance.
Nick and I had spent much of the morning working in his garden and watching a young family of sparrows.
“How come,” asked my son, as the sparrows flew in around me to get to the feeders, “the birds don’t seem to be frightened of you?”
“Maybe they know they don’t need to worry.” There is another answer to that, but it would have taken too long when I was up to my elbows in roses. Whatever the reason, I count it as both a privilege and a gift that the birds do not seem afraid.
We sat outside and watched them over coffee. There were a dozen or more flitting in and out from their staging area on the fence.
Some still had the downy feathers and wide yellow beaks of the newly fledged, waiting impatiently for their parents to bring their breakfast.
Others were beginning to stretch both their wings and their independence, flitting down into the Japanese maple and the roses in search of their own meal.
I could not resist taking a few photos from my perch on the step. It is a peaceful way to pass the time and, for some reason, watching sparrows always seems to leave you with a smile on your face.
By the afternoon, the sparrows had gone, foraging, no doubt, in neighbouring gardens. I locked the gate behind me and went home. But not for long.
“Mum…” said my son on the phone. “Could you come down, please?” I had barely been home an hour, but I could hear that something was wrong. “There are two dead birds… Oh! One of them twitched!”
“I’m on my way. “
Five miles later, I arrived to find my son sitting on the flagstones, with two immobile youngsters laying in front of him. Both still had the traces of juvenile yellow at the corners of their beaks.
“I think that one has died,” said my son, indicating the sparrow nearest to me. I got down on my knees and looked closer. One small, black eye flickered and I could see the trembling of feathers as it breathed. The other one seemed to be fairly alert, but was still not moving. “I think this one has hurt its leg…and,” he continued, “the red kite keeps circling very low.”
He had already watched for a while from a distance to protect them, hoping their parents would come for them. Climbing precariously across the back of the pond, so as not to disturb the birds, I went in search of a cardboard box, lining it with tissue. If need be, I would take them to the local wildlife rescue… but I had a feeling they would be okay. And a feeling I knew what had happened.
Nick had been inside and heard an almighty racket, as a gang of young starlings had been fighting over the feeders as usual. A downy, telltale feather and dusty silhouette on the window above the immobile sparrows seemed evidence enough that they had been ousted by the bullies and had discovered, the hard way, that you cannot fly through glass.
The one Nick thought had an injured leg allowed me to pick it up without flinching. There was immediate reassurance as it gripped my finger with both feet. I stroked the soft back and wings, making sure there was no other injury… the little one didn’t mind and seemed reluctant to let go of my finger as I placed it in the box. The other… the ‘dead’ one… flew away as soon as I approached, pausing by the gate before making its escape. I checked all around the car-park, but he was nowhere to be seen. This, I hope, was good
It pretty much confirmed my theory. Fleeing the bullies, around an hour earlier, they had hit the window and stunned themselves. As long as no bones were broken, they would probably be fine. The youngster in the box also seemed brighter and, with a little flutter, flew up into the climbing rose, waiting there and watching us for a while before flying off into the trees. We could not have wished for a happier ending.
If you find an injured bird, please make sure you know if and how you should handle them. The RSPB has guidelines HERE.