The Urban Countryside – First lessons in life
by Albert Nolan
I have been watching the blackbirds in my garden for the last few weeks between washing the dishes and preparing meals for my hungry gang. Now that their first brood is raised they are taking a welcome break from the rigors of parenting. The days are stretching well into the night and this gives them more time to search for food. This period of their lives is very important as they need to get back into condition before starting their next family. The dominant male is usually on his own and he hunts around the garden looking for earthworms and chasing away any other male including an irate robin. A few days ago the female came with him and for a while they kept a respectable distance apart. After a few minuets they approached each other and the female gently took a worm from him with the merest hint of an embrace. Keeping the bonds alive and strong is vital for this pair and presents will often be exchanged.
A few days later I was visiting an old graveyard and the grass had been recently cut. There had been heavy rain the night before and dozens of earthworms had come to the surface. A large flock of Starlings were busily feeding and their beaks were brimming with wriggling food. Once they had stocked up they flew to their nests in adjacent buildings and returned a few minuets later with fecal sacks. These contain the waste products from the chicks and if left in the nest would attract predators or cause disease.
Harsh lessons await the young birds that have flown the nest. Cats are a particular menace and many more die of starvation or are taken by birds of prey. They will hide in nearby trees and shrubs and the parents will continue to feed them for a couple of weeks. Life skills will also be past on as they will also learn the best locations to find food and the best method to catch it. Members of the public often find chicks at this time of the year and are uncertain of what is the best thing to do. The chick should only be handled if it is in immediate danger, on a road or a cat prowling nearby. Carry it gently to a bush or long grass and leave. The parents will be nearby and if you watch from a safe distance you might be lucky enough to see them return with food.
In the countryside these species would forage for food in fields churned up by animals. In the middle of a city they depend on lawns in gardens and public parks. Over the last few years I have noticed a worrying trend of concrete, tarmac and paving slabs covering over grassy areas and reducing the amount of food available to birds and butterflies.
Green areas soften the harsh lines of the buildings and if filled with flowers attract plenty of wildlife. They also act as a natural sponge and soak up excess rain water helping to alleviate flooding.