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(Unusual) Birds Of A Feather

On the BBC website today was a story about a Golden Eagle that has apparently made a bid for freedom not far from where I live. The police are warning people not to approach the bird, although why anyone would want to go near a bird with a six foot wingspan and talons like sharp kitchen knives is beyond me. That said, ‘staying inside’, also part of the instruction does summon up the image of a Harryhausen-esque beast swooping down and carrying off a cow or something. Though if we did have a small dog then perhaps it would be safer to keep that indoors lest the last thing you hear is a surprised yelp and the sound of great flapping wings.

I would not be surprised if Eddie (shall we call him that?) flaps his way over here. I have previous with escaped birds, even from childhood. Maybe it was something inherited from my mother. I do not know anyone else who found a canary in the street and had it jump onto her hand. So she brought it home where it happily lived out the rest of its days in our old budgie cage. We always wondered why it did not sing, thinking perhaps it was a little on the traumatised side from its obvious escape from a cage or aviary somewhere nearby. The mystery was solved eventually when it suddenly laid an egg one year. Only the males sing you see.

We used to go as a family down to Allendale in Durham for picnics when I was small, where I would proceed to build (thankfully unsuccessful) dams out of the stones while my parents soaked up the sun (in my head if not reality it always seems sunny, I know that seems unlikely to anyone with knowledge of the North East but it was the 1970s so maybe it really was true). Anyway, one such baking hot afternoon, as I was engaged in my latest aquatic construction project, my mother was heard to ask my father:

‘Is that a pelican?’

My father assured my mother that it was not, in fact, a pelican, as on the whole these are not common on riverbanks in Northern England.

Despite the further protestations of my mother that the bird she had spied on the far river bank was not actually ‘just an ugly swan’ my father was adamant and anyway by that point the point of contention had flown off.

You can see where this is going, can’t you?

On the local news that evening it was reported that a pelican has escaped from a local zoological park and was at large in the Durham area.

My mother, being the person she was, said nothing at all, but if you can radiate smugness that evening she was glowing.

My similar experience came on the M3 some years ago now, when the Lovely Wife was driving us down to the West Country. Idly looking out at the verge (sometimes you get the odd muntjac at the side of the road) I was somewhat taken aback by the large black vulture pecking at some less fortunate creature on the hard shoulder. I was sure it was a vulture, but at this point a sensible part of my brain is screaming not to be stupid. Obviously it was just a very big, very ugly crow. My general approach to bird watching is that if there is a boring mundane identification possibility for any bird then that is likely to be the correct one (usually a pigeon).  The Lovely Wife also saw it briefly and made things worse by agreeing with me.

Again – it turns out that we were correct. It was a black vulture, which went by the name of Barney. Barney, bless him, had escaped from Bird world in Surrey that morning and was enjoying a short lived culinary holiday munching through the ample roadkill available off the M3. He was later recaptured unharmed by all accounts but in a way that was a shame – the many Red Kites we see now are impressive enough and perform this same clean up role, but vultures would certainly provide some interest in the inevitable motorway jams.

I am looking out of the window now and all I can see are a family of goldfinches. But there is still time…

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