Tuesday, 27 June 2006

Parenthood takes its toll

Our cock blackbird and his mate are looking a bit frayed around the edges, perhaps unsurprising now that they are on their third nesting attempt. The first attempt took place several weeks ago and was successful, with two fledglings harassing their father for food with plaintive begging calls. A second nesting attempt was initiated by frenetic nest building activity in a small holly bush growing against my neighbour’s wall. The female seemed to take great delight in pulling apart one of my wall-mounted baskets to find suitable fibres with which to line the nest. The two birds were dutiful parents and it was not long before they were again busy feeding growing chicks. Then, one evening and with much agitation, they appear to have lost their chicks to one of the many neighbourhood cats. The nest, it seems, was easily accessible and there was nothing that the parents could do. Two days later and the female was doing her best to finish off my wall-mounted basket, showering the ground with soil. She might as well have nested in it! In the event, she built a new nest deep within the climbing rose that sprawls across the timber arch by our pond. At least this site should be safe from the cats. The first of her three (possibly four) eggs was laid nine days ago and she is now busy incubating, her tail or head just visible – depending upon how she is sitting.

Throughout all this the pair have been rather endearing, following us around the garden and full of optimistic expectation that our gardening activities will reveal some tasty morsel or other. The hen is more trusting than her mate and will often approach within a foot or so when I am planting or weeding. His contribution to our general enjoyment comes in the form of a serenade, delivered at various times throughout the day from the top of the shed or next door’s apple tree. The rich blend of notes provides a wonderful backdrop to a warm summer evening or a gentle introduction to a new day. While his song may have the crisp signature of a smart concert musician, his appearance is becoming more unkempt by the day. Fatherhood, it seems, takes a heavy toll on your appearance. The underlying reason for the state of his plumage, in particular his body feathers, is that this third breeding attempt is cutting into his annual moult. Over the next few weeks he will replace his feathers in a regimented order, renewing worn and damaged ones and gaining a smart new appearance. The hen too will need to moult but right now she has other things on her mind.

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