I’m lucky enough to have a garden that’s frequented by birds. There are lots of trees around, and the area seems to under-index for cats. I very rarely see the super-efficient micro-predators, compared to previous places I’ve lived in London. I’m sure it helps.
This year, however, something else is going on.
Birds are appearing in ways that seem portentous.
For months they’ve been non-stop in and out of a small pond I made years ago that until recently they’d ignored.
Perhaps it’s the hot weather, I thought.
Then they’d hop around even when I was in clear sight – not just the always-bold robins, but blackbirds and parakeets, too.
(Yes, parakeets. It’s a London thing…)
Was it because of my Covid-19 self-isolation that I’m seeing all these birds? I wondered. Life had slowed. Perhaps I was paying more attention.
I was certainly paying attention when I heard a tapping on a window. I found a youthful magpie bashing at it with a stick. It seemed like the first time it had encountered glass.
That was odd enough, but behind it three other young magpies crashed about my garden like winged Marx brothers. I guessed they’d all just fledged, and were using my garden to get acquainted with the world. Fair enough, but I’d never seen such antics before.
A couple of weeks later I opened my front door and almost trod on a fledgling. It was chirping up at me, all two-inches of it standing where a few dozen delivery men have stood during lockdown.
I mildly panicked, and remembered back to my childhood in the provinces. Its parents will be around, I recalled from the vaults.
Sure enough there was a robin squawking ten feet away in a bush.
I decided the baby had to be moved – it was going to get stepped on here – so I ducked inside, put on some Marigolds, returned, and hunted about for a few minutes until I found it had hopped into a drain hole. I picked it up and moved it to the base of nearby hedge.
Later that evening I heard it and a parent communicating, and saw a robin with a beak-full of dinner. The next day all was quiet so I presume it had fledged and made good its escape.
Weird. I hadn’t seen a baby bird on the floor in London in 25 years.
This orgy of ornithological activity culminated yesterday evening with a second troupe of adolescent magpies crashing around my garden furniture, as comically as if they were charging for a show.
I don’t believe this is all a coincidence.
My hypothesis is the lockdown earlier in the year – that definitely cleared the air, and made climbing a nearby hill as invigorating as a hike over the South Downs – resulted, together with the hotter weather, in an explosion of insect life.
This, in turn, has fed far more baby birds than normal. More were then surviving to successfully fledge, like my punk-brained magpies, while competition for space pushed others to marginal real estate, such as that nest a few feet from my front door.
A quick Google doesn’t provide much to support my theory. I can’t see any stories about a comeback for songbirds or corvids.
Be nice though, wouldn’t it? Most British birds have been in decline for decades.
I’ll keep watching this space. And my back garden!