Thursday, April 16, 2009

When birds attack

I birdwatch from my desk. My office is in a leafy part of town, surrounded by trees, shurbs, and therefore birds. I sit opposite a bank of tall windows, so I can observe bird activity all day long. There is even a family of thrushes living in a tree outside our conference room, and lately I find myself distracted during meetings, as the birds have built a nest and are now rearing chicks.

Yesterday evening, I was leaving the office and I saw a dark fluttering form on the path ahead--a bird. I was immediately filled with dread--at the end of a long day I was going to have to cancel the drink with Scott and friends I was headed to, and instead call the RSPCA animal rescue hotline and wait with the injured bird until someone arrived to transport it to a vet.

As I got nearer, I realized there were two birds, one on top of the other. Oh, great. Even more complicated. Now I'd have to wait with the injured bird and its panicked mate, soaking in their avian heartbreak-melodrama-tragedy--it was just too much.

But as I got even closer, the picture changed. I now realized it was a male sitting on the chest of another male which was dead. The live bird was pecking out the dead bird's eyes! The dead bird's little wiry feet were sticking straight out in front of it, like you'd see in a cartoon. The killer was so engrossed in its activity it did not move even when I eventually walked past! It just kept pecking and pecking. I've never seen anything like it!

A little research on the RSPB web site reveals that what I saw was most likely the result of a territorial dispute:

Male blackbirds establish a territory during their first year, which they will hold throughout their lives. The territory is essential for pair formation and nesting, although only a part of the food is obtained from within it.

Territory size varies depending on the habitat, and can be as small as 0.2 ha. Territory boundaries break down when the last broods have fledged and adults moult. During this period, territorial drive is low, and many birds will feed outside their territories at abundant food sources.

Territories are re-established in the late autumn, and from spring until July they are defended against all other blackbirds.


Lori said...

Hi there. I came across your blog as I was doing some research on sobremesa for a story I'm writing. Yours was the first entry that came up when I googled the term. I'm so glad to have come across it, as I've read a little here and there, and I'm most impressed with your writing and your photography. Really nice blog! Anyway, I'll come back again.

Thanks, Lori

CC said...

Hi Lori, that's very nice of you to say. Glad you are enjoying the blog!