Watching Sparrowhawks

It’s winter and everything’s hungry, especially since the summer was so insanely dry, very little grew. For a while, a young goshawk was preying on our hens (we lost our little 15 week old baby chicken shortly before Christmas; you don’t want to be the smallest chicken; it’s always the smallest chicken). Since Bertie Rooster is obviously not bothering to earn his feed, I’ve set myself up to work at a window where I can keep an eye on the chickens. Mostly what I’ve been seeing is that hordes of sparrows, yellow hammers, and European blackbirds are eating the wheat kernels that are our hens’ least favorite part of their diet.

We also put out seeds and grains for the birds in the front garden, so that’s also popular with songbirds, including red-breasted robins, four or five different species of tit (that’s chickadees to you North Americans), and sometimes also starlings (which have been pretty scarce here this year; I’ve seen more owls this year than starlings). The wood pigeons bobble around from time to time, too, and this morning our resident male pheasant had a showdown with Miss Messy (our fluffiest cat), who had no idea what to make of him. Magpies and crows and red squirrels come, too, when it drops below freezing and I throw out balls birdseed cemented together with lard.

But we’re attracting more than songbirds and squirrels. Yesterday I found an explosion of grey underfeathers (probably from a sparrow) in the driveway. No body, though. And a few minutes ago, staring out through my window at the chickens as I worked, I watched a sparrowhawk swoop in and carry off a yellow hammer.  Poor thing. But it’s winter, and everybody’s hungry. I guess I’m not just feeding songbirds, but also the birds that eat the songbirds. Which is fine, as long as the sparrowhawk doesn’t grow bold enough to try its hand at eating chicken.

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