I always remember one Easter when I stayed at a friend’s house. We used to stay in their conservatory that had a telly and a sofa bed - the weather was fabulous that year. They were marvellous hosts - toast in the mornings, dinner on the table, enough blankets and duvets to keep us warm and our very own Easter egg hunt! Yes that’s right, an Easter egg hunt.
One lazy afternoon, I woke up from a summer nap and found my friend’s mum unravelling a bundle of string through the house and garden. She was traipsing up and down, round and round and almost got herself tangled up. The only way I can describe it is that her garden became a scene from Mission Impossible - little beams of light bouncing off the walls then the secret agent has to do a series of contortionist moves to avoid the alarm going off. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what she was doing. Is she mad? Is she having a funny turn? Is she trying to tie us up? Bizarre!
It was only until she gave me one end of the string and said ‘Follow this’ that I realised I would have a lovely egg-shaped, chocolaty surprise waiting for me at the other end. So there we were, each of us with string in hand, sneaking around the garden, trying not to trip over each other’s string. We were all in our late teens, not the kind of ‘cool’ thing to do at that age, but we enjoyed it. It was a lovely thought and we each found our very own Easter egg.
So what’s this got to do with nature…? Well it got me thinking about some other creatures that also act a little strange around their nests and eggs this time of year.
Take the cuckoo for example. Female cuckoos lay their eggs in the nests of other birds that have the same colour and markings as them. So when the cuckoo egg hatches, the other bird brings up the young cuckoo as one of its own. Talk about lazy parenting - good job they don't have bird social workers out there or the cuckoos would be in big trouble!
Birds that nest on the ground, such as skylarks, never land near their nests. This is so they don't give away the nest location to predators. They tend to land a way away then sneakily make their way to their nest undercover. Other birds use 'distraction' techniques to divert predators away from their nests. For example, Ringed plovers pretend to have a broken wing so the predator follows it thinking it's injured and an easy meal. Once the predator is far enough away from the nest, the ringed plover flies away - 007 eat your heart out.
Although keeping an eye on the garden and the feeders and our blue tit's nest I couldn't describe myself either as avid or knowledgeable about birds. Nevertheless last summer I was surprised and fascinated by seeing a large bird of prey at the bottom of our Cotswold garden. It was plucking a pigeon which it had presumably just killed. For the next half an hour it slowly and methodically plucked and ate this bird, seemingly oblivious of anything else and leaving only bones and feathers. It had thick mottled legs and was quite large and I think it may well have been a buzzard. Would more bird-savvy people describe this as unusual behaviour for a bird in a rural garden, or have others witnessed this sort of activity?
Well I'm not sure if this is strange behaviour or nor but only today I watched a, what looked like juvenile ,magpie take what was left of a fatball out of a holder, it then took it to the back of my garden ate some of it and then buried the rest of it in a clump of bluebell leaves and grass. It actually tore up some leaves and grass to give it's stash some extra cover!
Hi! Thanks for leaving comments - it's good to get some feedback.
Roger: Sparrowhawks are the birds most commonly seen eating other birds in gardens, but others do visit occasionally. And you mentioned its thick legs - sparrowhawks have very thin, skinny legs (almost like knitting needles). You'll have plenty of buzzards nearby in the Cotswolds, so it's definitely possible, though they tend to prefer to eat things that are already dead. We've got more info here: http://www.rspb.org.uk/buzzard
Ray and Julia: It's perhaps a bit early for a young magpie to be out of the nest, but crows are very smart birds. Fatballs seem to be enjoyed by a variety of species...