Easter may be a time for hope for some, but not all of my neighbours are going to have a happy time this spring, I fear.
What is very apparent at the moment is the nest building of various birds around our garden in preparation for this year’s breeding attempt. The coots in the park have pretty much finished their rather impressive creations – superstructures of twigs resting on the bottom of the lake and decorated above the water’s surface with what passes presumably for each coot’s own personal idea of interior design, ranging from the ‘natural’ collection of various leaves to the seventies inspired crisp packet and discarded chocolate wrapper Avant Guarde look. The grey herons are sitting now, looking on with some irritation at the group of Little Egrets that have moved into their previously single heron species neighbourhood.
In our garden, it is looking increasingly as if the local mob of sparrows may be considering a nest in the midst of the raging Krinoid that is our jasmine, but the most obvious nesters locally are the magpies.
Now I have to confess I am a fan of all the crow family. We are very lucky to have the occasional jay pop in (surely one of the UK’s most beautiful birds) but normally Corvid presence is limited to either the pair of magpies or my one time nemesis the local carrion crow (and his paramour). I say nemesis; like Holmes and Moriarty, I have a grudging respect for my enemy, despite my efforts to thwart his evil schemes. This is the bird that for a period of weeks caused havoc on the bird feeder because he had learned to unhook the feeders from the pole; once on the ground, he could plunder their contents. He saw through a number of attempted fixes until finally I defeated him with some plastic garden ties. But I do think he is a marvellous bird, a huge brute in a riot of glossy black and darkest blue.
I also am fond of the magpies, who again, are worth a second look to see how gorgeous their plumage is in the breeding season. The local pair has been hard at work building a nest in a nearby evergreen. It has taken them a few weeks; sadly it will be to no avail.
The other day, it was obvious that the crows had rumbled the magpie’s nest location. There was no deception on the part of the crows. They just sat there, watching the increasingly panicked magpies with that unconcerned look of the villain that says ‘nothing you can do, Mr Magpie, is going to stop us now’ (evil cackle). The magpies have tried to drive them off, but they are less than half the size of the crow, and that beak of the larger bird is more than capable of dealing a death blow in an instant to the magpie so they are not really making much progress.
The upshot of this is the magpies will fail to breed this year. They will go through with the egg-laying most likely, but the crows will remember – because they have excellent memories for this sort of thing – and will come back and take either the eggs or the chicks, and there is nothing the magpies can do to stop them. It is quite sad in a way; but the crows have chicks to feed as well, and from our point of view we need both these birds to help clear up all the rubbish we leave around where we live.
The good news for the magpies is that they can live up to for several years (the oldest recorded was 21), so they will have a chance to breed next year – maybe even try again late in the season.
The bad news is that crows have an even longer lifespan and (voice drops to sinister East End whisper) ‘we knows where you live…’