1. 5. 6.
You just can’t force young people to be interested in birds! If birds don’t grab your teenagers, perhaps gore will, such as this Sparrowhawk kill. I took to sitting outside every night, just me and my beer, watching them fly from the fence, onto the clothes’ line and into the fir tree to their nest. When I finally found their nest – and what a nest it was – I got my boy on my shoulders and showed him. Look at that, I whispered, excited. Look at how she’s made it. It’s a work of art, son. Look how she’s lined it with flowers. “Yeah, Dad”, he said. And that was that. And that’s how it’s been. Until last summer. Suddenly there was progress. A collision of separate events changed things and this is what I realised: He’s not interested in birds. He’s 13. But he’s interested in gore. In blood and death. So a few weeks ago, when surprising death visited us in the shape of a hungry female Sparrowhawk, his interest was piqued. We might have seen a noticeable drop in Starlings, House Sparrows, Yellowhammers et al in our area but we seem to have more pigeons than Trafalgar Square, and as a result, the village Sparrowhawk is a regular visitor. “Look at this,” my wife shouted one afternoon. A female Sparrowhawk had swooped down on a fat Woodpigeon on our patio. Typically, my boy was so excited by the promise of bloody death that he rushed to the window too quickly and the hawk, momentarily spooked, flew off. We left the dead pigeon there, hoping she’d come back. She didn’t. 2. On one of our walks, we stumbled upon a Jay ripping open a Wren’s nest. He’d seen a Jay before – but not this close, and not this ferocious. It was a sight to behold. “What’s it doing, Dad?” Well, it’s looking for food. It will eat bird chicks. It will take them back and feed its chicks other birds’ chicks. “Urgh”, he said. But he was interested. 3. But not as interested as he was when the Springwatch Stoat managed to squeeze into the hole of the Green Woodpecker’s nest, pulling out its grim looking chicks, one by one. 4. Boys are competitive about everything – so we started making it into a game – who could see the rarest bird, the biggest bird, the deadliest bird, etc. The Jay – not exactly rare in our parts, but shy – was a 70/100. He spotted it first. He got the points. My best that day was a female Bullfinch. 60/100. He won. He always likes that. In an old quarry, not far from where we live, a pair of Peregrines have started to nest. He knows about the Peregrine. It was on the kids’ TV show Deadly 60, a round-up of the most deadly animals in the world, and they’d learned about it at school. So, we’d sit patiently and wait for the Peregrine to show. We didn’t see it first time out, which I knew would be bad news. But we went again. And again. And although he griped about it, eventually, we saw it. A sleek, slate-grey bird, rising on the wind, soaring high above the quarry, away and then tucking in its wings to swoop on some unsuspecting prey. “Did you know, dad, that when it flies like that it travels at nearly 200 mph,” he told me, and I smiled. “I didn’t know that. How do you know that?” “Because it said so in the Deadly 60.” Right. We should come up here again, I said. OK, he said. And we have. He plays cricket every weekend on the edge of an old wood. There are Buzzards nearby. They appear every time he plays, these majestic birds of prey with huge brown and white wings. “Are they Golden Eagles?” he asked. When we got home, we got the bird book down. They still look a bit like eagles, he said. When he was fielding one Sunday morning, I heard him tell a friend: “Look at the Buzzards, they’re a bit like eagles.” I was quietly pleased about that. Maybe, finally, it’s sinking in, I hope it is.
LIKE FATHER... Peregrine