Wee Mac is never wrong. He has been bred to hunt down one thing: mice. And of course their big cousins whose name Dúlra gets a chill just mentioning – it’s enough to say that it begins with ‘R’.
Thankfully in the Dúlra abode, it’s just mice that wee Mac has to worry about. You can actually see them hopping out of the hedge to feed on the bird seed that’s scattered every day. In fact you often see a mouse feeding alongside the chaffinches which the seed is meant to attract. And when Mac gets released from the next door neighbour’s house every morning, he bursts through the hedge like he’s possessed – but he’s so excited and makes so much noise that the birds are in the air and the mice in the hedge before he arrives.


Nothing else interests Mac. Pigeons, seagulls, magpies and even squirrels can all feed just feet away from him and he’ll not bat an eyelid. They don’t exist in his brain. Very little does to be honest – because they all get pushed out by those damned mice that take up his every living thought.

But when he took the box down, Mac went into full hunter-killer mode. At first he just stood there, frozen, staring at the box. His tail wagged slowly and after a few moments, his whole body started to shake.

He can’t help it – it’s an obsession that’s been bred into his DNA as a Lakeland terrier. Centuries ago they were used to patrol the farmyard, hunting down vermin stealing the grain. And Dúlra’s back garden is for Mac the modern-day farmyard, with bird seed taking the place of the grain.
That’s what makes this picture so intriguing. And disturbing. Dúlra had to move the starlings’ nestbox a few feet to the side this week because it had been replaced by a couple of new swift boxes. It’s a complicated story – suffice to say that the starlings’ nestbox had in fact been designed for swifts but the starlings commandeered it. Dúlra could have made the entrance hole smaller to exclude the starlings, but just like swifts, starlings too are finding it hard to find good places to nest. They moved in a few years ago and Dúlra wants to keep them, so the nestbox would stay up, if in a different spot.
But when he took the box down, Mac went into full hunter-killer mode. At first he just stood there, frozen, staring at the box. His tail wagged slowly and after a few moments, his whole body started to shake. Dúlra has seen this before – it’s what happens when Mac comes face to face with his prey, those pesky rodents that he can’t get out of his mind from the moment he gets up until he falls asleep.
But there was definitely nothing in the box – it was completely empty. Dúlra had cleaned the nest out earlier in the year.
Then Mac launched himself at the box, pawing at it, lowering himself down to ground level and trying to get into the holes – the one at the front for the birds and a bigger one at the back for fitting a camera inside.
After a while he pushed his whole head into the bigger hole as if he was trying to crawl inside. He stayed like this for minutes without moving. The only thing you could hear was the wee terrier’s deep breath – slowly in and out, filling his lungs to capacity each time. It was like he was eating the air, gulping it down.
It was mouse air. Dúlra didn’t want to accept it, but the evidence was in front of him.
Even though the nestbox had been used by starlings who raised two broods this year outside Dúlra’s bedroom window, evidently mice had moved in at some point. Even though it had been under the eaves, 30ft from the ground.
Is there anywhere these wee creatures can’t get to?
The mice must have been running along the gutters before slipping into the nestbox, where they were as safe from the elements as the starling chicks had been during the summer. Maybe the fear of wee Mac’s jaws had forced them to seek safety well above ground.
It’s incredible – but at least the mice were still outside the house, not inside.
Dúlra dragged wee Mac from the box and climbed the ladder, screwing the nestbox to the wall once more.
If the starlings – druid in Irish – return this coming spring, the mice will get short shrift. And maybe the evicted mice be forced to return to ground zero – where Mac will be waiting to welcome them.
• If you’ve seen or photographed anything interesting or have any nature questions, you can text Dúlra on 07801 414804.