Bird

The Simple Things - - NATURE - BY ESTHER WOOLFSON

Ex­plor­ing the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the ur­ban and the wild in her home­town of Aberdeen, Esther Woolfson in­ves­ti­gates the way we live in cities and the most com­mon species – from spar­rows to slugs – who share the ur­ban land­scape.

The gar­den flut­ters, alive with threat­ened birds. On a low­er­ing morn­ing in Au­gust, a morn­ing al­most mag­nif­i­cent in its dark-skied, rain­ing dis­mal­ness, they’re gath­ered here out­side my win­dow, un­ceas­ing in their busy for­ti­tude, ap­par­ently im­per­vi­ous to the weather, feed­ing at the bird-feeder, crowd­ing in, jostling, nudg­ing, sing­ing; beau­ti­ful, small, vi­tal, ever-mov­ing, their voices sparkling bril­liance into the blue-grey dark­ness of the morn­ing.

Passer do­mes­ti­cus, the house spar­row, like busy, mo­bile fairy lights gar­land­ing the over-grown vibur­num and philadel­phus. Even un­seen, they’re there in the sway and dip of the branches, in a sud­den chas­ing, a sud­den do­mes­tic (or do­mes­ti­cus) quar­rel or avian out­rage of one sort or an­other, in an out­break of loud and shrill com­plaint. An in­ci­dent of pas­sion or vi­o­lence be­comes an ex­plo­sion of leaves, a bout of vig­or­ous groom­ing and preen­ing trans­forms into a scat­ter of rain­drops from the branches.

They ap­pear sud­denly, en­tire fam­i­lies of them, like a Busby Berke­ley cho­rus in uni­son from the newly grow­ing spring ar­rases of green, to feed and hop and sing and flap and quiver be­fore re­tir­ing back as one into the thicket of rose, jas­mine and pear. On bright days, they sit, peer­ing, as from win­dows from their in­di­vid­ual branches, chat­ter­ing, call­ing, like a noisy shrub­ful of watch­ing concierges.

Their sing­ing is loud but if some­thing stops it, it stops sud­denly, as if it’s been switched off. Then we wait, in­doors and out, in si­lence un­til what­ever danger they have dis­cerned but I haven’t has gone and those of us who sing, re­sume our sing­ing. Some­times, I walk from the back door to fill the bird-feed­ers into the shrill and shriek of spar­row alarm, a sound that sparks like fire through the gar­den, a shrub-to-shrub, tree-to-tree in­cen­di­ary, small, high choirs of warn­ing. Usu­ally, I’m just too late to see them fly and so I know I’m not caus­ing their alarm. I rely on their judge­ment and their ob­ser­va­tion be­cause they’re never wrong. When I look for a cause, I find it – the neigh­bour’s cat watch­ing us all from a win­dow, a burst of alarm-call­ing from an­other gar­den as a hawk flies over­head.

From Field Notes From A Hid­den City – An Ur­ban Na­ture Di­ary by Esther Woolfson (Granta)

“A bout of vig­or­ous preen­ing trans­forms into a scat­ter of rain­drops from the branches”

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