Our Coal shed has always been a preferred location for a Blackbird nest and, every spring, a pair move in, tidy the old nest up a bit and then settle in for the duration. Most years we get 3 broods and the female always seems to be braver than the male, happily hopping dangerously close to my working spade, in her search for food. Mr Blackbird doesn’t generally come down to feed until I’ve left the vegetable patch altogether and will fly back to a safe distance when I return.
The first three years we noticed this behaviour, we were convinced that it was the same pair returning every spring, although we watched an episode of Springwatch a couple of years ago in which the presenters said that this was unlikely, when another viewer had sent in a similar theory about the birds in their garden. We remained convinced but by the third year, the now old Mrs Blackbird was looking decidedly ropey but then she had raised 3 broods a year for 3 years, some 15-20 fledglings, and we realised, with sinking hearts, that she was unlikely to survive the coming Winter.
I remember that last year, as it was the first time I ever used pea netting in my garden. I wondered out into the garden to find the parent birds in a flap – one of the current fledglings had found a gap in the netting around the Mangetout, had wondered in and had got tangled in the netting in its’ now panicked efforts to get out.
It took me half an hour (wearing heavy duty gardening gloves to protect my hands from the sharp beak of the youngster) to free the bird, with Mrs Blackbbird maintaining a raucous tirade at my efforts, for the entire time. Oddly enough I believe that the parent birds realised I was trying to help their youngster because neither attempted to ‘attack’ me at any time. Finally the shocked youngster was free and it flew into the safety of the undergrowth near the pond with both parents hastily joining it to make sure it was ok.
I retied and fastened my netting around the Mangetout, making absolutely sure that there was no way in for any bird of any size – Fort Knox had nothing on me for security measures that day – and then it was a waiting game to see if the fledgling survived or if shock got him. Thankfully, there were still 3 fledglings running around the garden a few days later and I like to think that all three made it to independence.
The next spring a younger, sleeker female Blackbird took up residence in the coal shed but was just as friendly as the previous incumbent and just as brave. We did wonder if it was actually the young bird which I had helped but there was no way to know. This bird also produced 3 broods and we believe she returned last spring (2012) but, sadly, we think a cat or some such thing got her, as Mud found her body beside the greenhouses with its’ tail feathers ripped out. Sad though this was, our immediate concern on finding her was how the male was going to be able to cope with feeding 2 fledglings, who had only left the nest the day before.
I don’t think I have done as much digging in my garden, in such a short space of time as I did over the next few days, trying to make sure there was a readily available supply of worms and grubs for the remaining parent bird to snaffle and feed to his young. I’d dig for a few minutes, race inside whilst he came for the wrigglies and then when he flew off I’d dive back out and repeat the process, until he stopped returning, having, we assumed, managed to fill both young bellies and his own. An hour or so later I repeated the process. We think both youngsters made it but wait with baited breath to see if a new pair move in this year and, if so, if they’ll be as friendly as the others have been. We can but hope.