IS there anything prettier on God’s green earth than a baby bird?
This one actually flew into Dúlra’s house this week, straight through the open back door and into the kitchen. It settled on a windowsill, looking longingly out into the garden while flapping its wings. Dúlra’s daughter cupped it in her hands and carried it to safety – if ‘safety’ is the right word for that big, bad world out there.
The fluffed-up baby dunnock was cuter than any cuddly toy Disney could conjure up. And once back out in the garden, it chirped like an alarm clock, letting its parents know where it was. And moments later they were down placing food in its mouth.
It wasn’t the only dunnock calling. It was like listening in stereo as the various chicks called out from the hedges. The old name for a dunnock (donnóg in Irish) is hedge sparrow because that’s where they like to hide. Their nest is so well hidden that it’s futile looking for it but it sounded like the pair nesting in Dúlra’s garden produced half a dozen chicks. Unlike robins, dunnocks will never eat from your hand. But Dúlra will give it a go this year – maybe that wee bird saved by his daughter will remember that helping hand and return to it.
An hour before the dunnock flew into the house, Dúlra came across this young jay in the street. This is a rare forest bird, so he’s no idea what it was doing here in the city. Had the jays nested in someone’s garden? Anyway, a little earlier in the same area a gaggle of magpies had kicked up a terrific riot, so loud that Dúlra took a dander down the street to see what the commotion was all about. As he approached, a cat bolted from the hedge.
He’d found the cause of the uproar, but little did he know that damage had already been done – not to the magpies, but to their crow cousin, the jay.
The baby jay’s left wing is obviously hanging low and damaged in this picture below. Dúlra had to make a quick calculation: should he try to catch it and keep it safe in the house until it mends? Would he actually be able to feed a baby jay? Or, as is the advice for all chicks, should he let it go free and let its parents take care of it? Parent birds always know where their young are – one chirp like the dunnock’s and they’re on the scene.
Catching a big bird like a jay is not so easy and Dúlra’s no Debbie Doolittle. So instead he shepherded it into a neighbour’s garden where it climbed into a bush, away from the cat should it return. It might have been better to try to catch it – maybe throw a blanket over it – but it already seemed so scared on the footpath that Dúlra didn’t want to add to its distress. We can but hope that its parents tend to it until its wing heals.
And as if that isn’t enough excitement for one week, the best was still to come. A few years ago Dúlra got a wee slice of glass taken out of the window in the garage to allow birds like sparrows or robins inside to roost or nest. But as far as he knows, no birds have taken up his invitation of free accommodation.
But this week he opened the garden door to get the lawnmower – and was simply stunned to see a pigeon sitting on the ground just behind it (see pic below Dunnock video). It didn’t back away as Dúlra knelt down, offering his palm as a sign of peace. Incredibly, the bird just hopped onto his hand.
It had a ring on its leg which seemed to have a phone number. So, after putting the pigeon in a cardboard box with some seed and water, he made the call. A north Antrim accent answered. “That bird was meant to arrive back to my loft in Ballymoney yesterday,” the delighted owner told Dúlra. It had been taking part in a race from Penzance in Cornwall and had obviously got its bearings wrong. The gap in Dúlra’s garage window must have seemed something like its own loft so it slipped inside and settled among the rusting garden equipment.
The bird’s owner said it was a winner – it had two championships under its belt. And next day he arrived to collect it, delighted to have his champion back. All in a week's work!
If you’ve seen or photographed anything interesting, or have any nature questions, you can text Dúlra on 07801 414804.