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Nature bestows its bounty on our birdlife

By Dúlra

MAYBE it’s something to do with growing older, with the knowledge incrementally increasing with each day that you’ll not be here forever. Because recently, the sheer beauty of our surroundings has blown Dúlra away.

It’s been a fantastic summer with the sun shining most of the time, but rarely producing the sweltering days that make a visit to the country too energy-sapping.

It has produced those 40 shades of green that Ireland is so famous for – and wildlife has taken full advantage.

Each bird has raised one family and rather than take a breather and enjoy a little downtime to watch their youngsters growing up, the parents have immediately set about laying a second brood.

Second broods are a bit of a bonus, where birds try to get one over on nature. If it doesn’t succeed, it’s no big deal in the grand scheme of things. But if, like this year, they get a clear run and are able to squeeze a second family into the summer, well, the effects can be monumental.

Populations can double, newborns can expand their range into new territories – they can even afford to take a chance on trying to live higher up a hill than their ancestors, or push closer to the cold north or the warm Equator.

Birds closer to the Arctic always only lay one clutch – even the same species that raise two here. Young geese, for example, don’t even have the time to mature before winter arrives, and seasons without successful breeding are common.

But temperate Ireland, when the weather is sympathetic, acts like a greenhouse. This spring and summer there witnessed an explosion of activity like never before.

Dúlra’s never seen so many chicks, each one like a chubby pre-teen. This tiny coal tit, meantán dubh in Irish, sat on the fence, not bothered in the slightest by Dúlra walking within a foot of it. Its feathers were all puffed up and it screamed at the top of its voice for its parents to bring it food. It hadn’t yet got the clean markings of the adults – it looked as if it had been put through a washing machine cycle, its patterns faded and the colours merging.

Its presence in the garden spoke loudly to Dúlra – about life, about hope, about spirit and about family. There’s something elemental in a youngster making its way in the world that brings out an ‘aaaahhh’ in the gruffest of people.

And then came the goldfinches – they too screamed for food, but this time hidden among the leaves in a treetop. The young bullfinches were much more subtle, just letting out a low bleep from the undergrowth that only their parents would notice.

Every garden, every field, is teeming with such scenes. It may fill our ears with the music of nature, but the call of fledging young is like the dinner bell to creatures higher up the evolutionary ladder. Birds of prey claim easy pickings – but the grim truth is that they can only eat so much and there are so many young getting ready to take off on a lifetime’s adventure that even the ravenous raptor and the marauding magpie can hardly make the smallest dent in the numbers.

In a clement summer this like this, each pair of parents in most species will probably raise an average of 10 offspring. That means going into winter the bird population will have increased by some 500 per cent.

Parents often force their young out of the nest before they are ready by starving them of food. Sparrowhawks take that no-nonsense approach to the ultimate – they don’t feed their young for three weeks before they finally get the hint and leave their nest.

The young birds improve an already beautiful picture in our countryside at present. With the deep blue of the sky and the sea contrasting with the green of the land, it’s a place to be proud of.

And as the season turns and the weather changes, we’ll face the challenge with renewed optimism and in the company of so many new feathered friends.

If you have seen anything interesting or have any nature questions, you can text Dúlra on 07801 414804.

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