June was busy; I was away a lot and returned home after a long weekend to find that a pair of blackbirds had almost completed building a late nest in the grapevine, right above my back door. The female was sitting in the nest but flew out when I came out the door. I took a quick look through the landing window just above the nest and noted there were no eggs yet. I hoped that my reappearance would discourage the pair from their task. I imagined that they had already nested earlier and noted that this effort was very late in the season.
They must have decided that I was worth the risk and continued to build so when I returned after yet another weekend away, the female was sitting on four eggs. I was quite cross and concerned for them as I’d planned a party in my very small garden mid July and felt sure that the noise and activity would scare them away. I decided to carry on as normal, sitting in my garden courtyard, hanging out washing and gardening. I reflected that this choice of location might not be the brightest, but then again my presence could deter predators. How could they know that? Had they somehow learned that humans are OK to be around? Not taking any risk, the bird remained motionless if I was about, believing in her camouflage. She would only leave or return to the nest, beautifully hidden by the vine leaves, if she was convinced that I or any other creature was not looking. You might wonder what the male was doing all this time. He didn’t seem much in evidence, but the moment a couple of magpies flew into sight, he was on duty, distracting them away from the area by confronting them and pretending that his nest was several gardens away. Cleverly he would raise the alarm and take the drama well out of site of my grapevine.
The party date approached and rain threatened. I decided to erect a gazebo, which would take up most of the courtyard and come within inches of the nest. I did it in stages putting up the frame the day before. She sat on the nest all the way through it, so encouraged, I carefully pulled on the covering the following morning. She flew out of the nest but once the top was on and I could no longer be seen from above, she returned. It rained hard, clearing up in time for my guests. I didn’t tell anyone the blackbirds were nesting. Human beings are inherently inquisitive and children might have insisted on looking in the nest. While we had been partying away under the canopy, things had been happening above. When I dismantled the gazebo the following day, there were four chicks in the nest. Mum wasn’t sitting and there was a very faint sound of cheeping. Both
birds were alternating their visits, bringing food to the youngsters, trying to work out which ones needed feeding next. I didn’t expect all four chicks to survive and some of them looked overheated. The temperatures at this time of year on a South West facing wall were exhausting.
A week later, I discovered one of the chicks dead by the back step. A quick look, while the mother was away, first checking no one was looking, showed that only two chicks remained. There were no clues to the fate of number four. I removed the dead chick to the other side of the house so that scavengers would not come sniffing and continued to come and go alongside my bird family. Some days later one of the chicks was sitting on the edge of the nest peering at me through the vine leaves. Meanwhile the grapes are ripening and it’s time to expose them to sunshine by removing some foliage. This turned out to be a bad idea as the chick decided to flee the nest, fluttering ineffectually down to ground level and taking refuge at the base of an ivy-clad wall, behind a small statue of a naked woman. Whatever sound the young bird emitted in this exercise produced parental alarm several gardens away. Checking for chick number two revealed that the frightened chick was the last one left of the four originals.
I’m generally a Darwinian, but as I’d caused the chick to jump out of the nest, I felt duty bound to put it back, which I achieved by getting out the ladder, throwing a cloth over the chick and returning it to the nest and carefully removing the cloth. Feeding resumed and for the next few days the fledgling could be heard calling discreetly to be fed and exercising its wings.
The next thing I know, the fledgling has jumped out of the nest again and is perched on the handlebar of my bicycle in full view of any predators.
‘Stupid bird,’ I muttered, and chased it round the courtyard with the cloth.
Its next excursion found it perched on the lower branches of the honeysuckle.
‘That’s a bit more sensible,’ I told it. Young Blackbird was hidden under the canopy and high enough off the ground to give the neighbourhood cat a challenge. Dad seemed to be the main feeder now and the next day I spotted the youngster away out of my courtyard on a high wall between me and next door. Then it was gone. I hope it makes it and I can now attend to my grapes.