Birds of a feather in the New Forest

Birds of a feather 

Feed the birds, and preserve their life of simple dignity 

Mark and Hugh signoff 600x400Introductory note: This week Hugh and Mark take a look at our feathered friends and how they can sometimes help our often-troubled minds to momentarily escape the bonds of this cursed virus.

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Birds of a feather

There is nothing I used to enjoy more than sitting to a pub table with a pint of beer and a packet of peanuts at my right hand and the weekend newspaper spread out in front of me. It continues to be one of the loveliest treats of my retired life, I could easily lose two and a half hours; and gain the same in pounds. Times have changed somewhat and for many of us life without the pub has become crushingly lonely. Garden birds help to alleviate the loneliness, just the tiniest bit. In our imaginations we’re able to reach out and touch these tiny independent creatures and perhaps yearn a little for the freedom that for them is natural. Just imagine for a moment a world of natural authority without our rules, restrictions or property: a world without an address or the accompanying utility bills. A world without the deceptions of media or politics. In short, a life of simple dignity.

This weekend I read an article about a resurgence in bird feeding. You’re probably like the majority in finding these tiny creatures fascinating. To just touch the fringes of the miracle that is life, find yourself a feather, then closely examine the detail and complexity. Reflect on the fact that you are examining just one solitary feather and consider the world of nature with her enormous diversity of creatures. It’s worth a moment.

We humans find ourselves in the middle of what has been quite a cruel winter, cosily wrapped in our duvets at night with the heating just taking the edge off and keeping our noses warm. Before leaving our centrally heated houses, we don thermal leggings and vest, thick socks, a comforting shirt, jumper, jacket, scarf, gloves and hat. It’s no wonder we English miss appointments in the winter and find ourselves early in summer. Birds however seem to manage quite well without shops or mail order, gas, or electricity. Are we so advanced I wonder?

During the recent cold spell, I popped out at around three in the morning for ‘a little fresh air’. It was a clear starry night and the temperature was low, probably minus two and as I made my way back to the camper I began to shiver slightly. I reflected that I had been exposed to the cold for perhaps a minute, maybe two. The birds, wherever they were perched, would be exposed to the biting cold all night long and not a duvet in sight. Imagine their poor little tootsies.

A different kind of donation

You can help preserve the winter population of our native birds enormously by spending just a few quid. Feeders are relatively cheap and the calorific value of fat or suet balls is significant. My sister-in-law Deb is a vegan and unsurprisingly cares passionately for the welfare of animals. It’s her that I turn to for advice on the topic of bird feeding. For example, she will thoroughly clean her feeders every week. This is no mean feat as she has dozens in her garden hanging from every available branch, also table feeders. She is sanguine about the fact that these large numbers attract raptors. Her back yard has become a sort of fast-food fly-by for sparrowhawks. Such is nature.

A drift to the continent

When I lived in France there were two species of birds that I was particularly fond of. The first is the hoopoe. I will never forget my first sighting. The strikingly patterned bird skimmed our garden fence, flashed in front of me and perched in a neighbouring willow. The flight pattern was exactly as described, like that of a large butterfly. Through the binoculars I took in the magnificent crest and the long-curved bill. Apparently in Egypt they are sacred. The male calls in order to attract a mate but once his duty is done, falls silent. Human males are similar, well apart from the snoring.

The second species I wanted to mention is the crane. This graceful creature has a long neck and when we humans created a lifting device that appeared to be of a similar appearance, we named it after the bird. The French did the same, they refer to both the device and bird as a ‘grue’. In order to pronounce this word correctly you will need a very well lubricated throat. My dear French neighbour Josette used to literally laugh at my attempts at pronunciation. So cruel.

These birds migrate north across France in huge flocks flying in V formations at between three and five thousand feet. The honking sound they make can be heard a mile away and is invariably the first sign of their approach. Entranced I watched as these birds with their necks stretched out ahead and their long spindly legs trailing behind made their way to places known only to them. No GPS, no Sat Nav, no compass. These creatures were headed for distant destinations locked away in their memories. We humans use a cloud to store stuff, cranes fly amongst them. Bird brained you say, they’re not that stupid. Occasionally, when the lead had sensed a thermal beneath its wings, the formations would break up. Around and around the flock would wheel, gaining height without a single flap of a wing. Then, when they had become noticeably higher and at some secret signal, they would re-form and make their way north again, honking as they went. The whole thing was too miraculous for words and for me personally, rather hypnotic.

Why do we feed them when they can manage perfectly without us?

I gave this some thought and came to the conclusion that the root of this particular enjoyment is charity. Our brace of readers might remember the article a few weeks back where we discussed the Salvation Army. The majority of us are inherently good and as such we give. Once we drop a coin into a collection box, we wave goodbye to it and hope and pray that it is used well. When we feed birds, there is instant gratification.

There’s no such thing as a fat bird because, funnily enough, they need to be able to fly. It’s in their job description. Birds eat because they need to not because they want to. When you put out bird food, you are simply saving lives; the insects and seeds that they normally feed on are scarce. There is no avian Tesco.

Redress the balance, nobody can stop you

We humans are a force of destruction and pollution, it would appear that we’ll do just about anything for profit. We continue to over-fish our waters, pollute our land and air; fill our rivers and streams with raw sewage whenever there’s a bit of rain. We genetically modify food in order to increase yield. For entertainment we blast game birds out of the sky, then bury the carcasses in pits. Sometimes nature must lower her head and shake it mournfully at our actions.

Reverse the tide, put a little care back into the system. Go forth and feed thy flock.

And now with apologies to Fernando Botero for shrinking his cat sculpture to a quarter of its actual size, here comes Hugh's cartoon: full size!

cartoon of cat sculpture in a garden with people


More tales and cartoons for Lymington and the New Forest from Mark and Hugh

If you'd like to read previous articles on diverse subjects written by Mark and illustrated by Hugh's cartoons here they are, click the links embedded in the titles:

Hurst Castle
Send in the clowns

Food glorious food

The power of good

Old school, new school, young school
Dreaming of holidays

Miracle or monster? Modern communications

RNLI and Lymington Lifeboat

Happy New Year Resolutions and Revolutions
Merry Christmas 2020
What our cars say about us
The litter pickers of the New Forest

A roof over your New Forest head

Richard St Barbe Baker

Our star, our sun, our salt!
To Lymington or Cuba
The Auld Mug

Seeds of success

Moonlit meeting with cetaceans 

Trees and what they tell us
Cartography and trig pillars

Pony drifts and pannage in the New Forest
A journey from the New Forest via Lymington
The brilliance - and persistence - of Marconi

Equality in the skies
Bees pollinators par excellence 
Cordless home entertainment

The joy of sheds

When the Isle of Wight was just Wight
Bucklers Hard

Salisbury Cathedral 
Pond Life in our Forests 
Bombs Away 
Baileys Hard 
Rufus Stone and Sir Walter Tyrrell
Graffiti through the ages
Freedom of the roads
Heath fires
Lymington Lido
Watch the birdie
Unstoppable momentum of nature
Socially distanced socialising
Calshot Spit, a curse for mariners...



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