In 2005 when I lived in St Anne’s on Sea I heard an ungodly racket and glanced out the window. A sparrowhawk had flown in and attacked a starling. The sparrowhawk had the starling pinned to the ground and was mantling its prey as I watched with a fascinated horror, and a camera, from inside the house.

The next few minutes were pretty gruesome as the sparrowhawk carefully attended to its victim which continued to belt out a series of chilling screeches until eventually it had no life left. It was not, for me, comfortable viewing.

Today I heard the same noise again. This time, 7 years on, in Durham. A sparrowhawk had flown in to the bird table. This has happened before. But today was different. It stayed. Sparrowhawks are opportunists. Hit and Run. Boom and Zoom. They fly in, target, and then move on. But this one was hanging around, watching all the frantic sparrows and tits that were shouting out their alarm calls within the shrubbery.

I watched for a minute or two, and then, comfortable as I am nowadays with my anthropomorphism, grabbed the camera and headed out. The sparrowhawk only flew of, empty handed, as I approached, and the ‘nice’ birds heaved a sigh of relief.

I can see Chris Packham’s fascination with this raptor, and its large, mean, malevolent (there’s the anthropomorphism again) eye. My problem with the sparrowhawk, as it is with my three domestic pet cats, is their distressing lack of compassion in dispatching their prey. No neat bite behind the neck, just a functional, leisurely and sedate consumption of their dinner. And it dies when it dies. The efficiency of the biological imperative is understandable but that doesn’t make it any the less disquieting.

Starling investigates the blue tit nestbox

It must be pretty tough being a blue tit. Yesterday there was a magpie sitting on the roof. Today a starling tried to get in through the front door. The blue tit youngsters must still be in there (I saw an adult with food) and presumably the starling can hear them chirping inside. If the image below is going to be typical then leaving home for the blue tits is going to be a dramatic business.

I don’t know if starlings predate blue tit youngsters but I’ve no reason to assume they don’t. The starlings have been keeping an eye and a claw on the nestbox all day. I wonder how this one will play out …


rude boys

I’ve worked out that at 3 fat blocks, twice daily, I could easily get through 42 fat slabs a week. That’s alot of fat, and a lot of money, so they have to do with a fraction of that. Even so, every time I blink, the feeder is empty. It seems to be mainly the starlings feeding their squabbling lazy youngsters …

Although the food is there for the taking the starlings prefer to screech to the adults to have the stuff physically shoved down their throats …

Although, occasionally, they still manage to look cute.

The screeching and squawking comes to an abrupt halt however. Not because the fat has run out, but because the heavies arrive …

you wouldn’t want to mess with that stare.

Here’s today’s slideshow …


youngsters at the feeders

I have a webcam pointing at the Blue Tit nest box but unfortunately it gets so much movement ‘noise’ that I end up with skipfuls of images and it’s hard to sort out the good ones and all sorts of empty images get uploaded automatically to my flickr photostream.

young hungry starlingThere’s always the conventional approach of pointing a real camera at the birds and pressing the button.

This youngster has landed on top of the fat feeders and is screaming at the adult nearby to come and feed him. The adult, however, is older and wiser, and has spotted me nearby and is keeping a wary eye on me.

I do like this picture and its drama with the youngster screeching for attention. But there’s always something nice about getting a photo of a bird on a natural perch. Here’s the same bird again balancing on a bit of hazel:

Starling on hazel

Not as excited this time but a more natural backdrop, which I like.

And every year we get young sparrows that are always good to see. I don’t know where they’re nesting because it’s certainly not the expensive roof terrace that I put up for them years ago and has been ignored every year.

House Sparrow

Bigger versions of these photos can be found in my zenfolio gallery.