GOOD news comes in threes, they say. Like these three birds at Dúlra’s water font – two sparrows and a greenfinch. You could say it’s nothing too unusual, but you don’t live in Dúlra’s street.
Since Dúlra moved in about a decade ago it's been a sparrow-free zone. That homely tweet that many readers are so familiar with they no longer notice is absent here. While there are sparrows in all the surrounding areas, Dúlra’s street has been a sparrow desert.
He knows why. It’s nothing to do with the access to food for Dúlra and his neighbours must be among the most generous bird feeders in the city. In fact, we attract so many birds that almost every day the sparrowhawk comes down from his mountain roost on a bullet-like raid, scattering terrified prey like a fighter pilot strafing the innocents. And Dúlra even put up two sets of sparrow ‘terrace’ nestboxes, which have laid empty for years.
Dúlra knows the reason there are no sparrows – it's the builder’s fault for being too good at his job. Every crevice in every roof has been rigidly filled in, leaving no nooks or crannies for sparrows to nest in. A few winters back one male sparrow arrived, then last spring a pair hung about the area before disappearing to nest elsewhere.
But this month, suddenly, we had not just a pair of sparrows, but an invasion. They arrived with their chicks in tow – ready-made families – about a dozen birds in total. The chicks are a sheer delight as they follow their parents’ every move, flapping their fluffy wings and begging for food.
A bird which is in serious trouble in Ireland. Had this singing Greenfinch today. Phone-scoped pics attached. pic.twitter.com/R9eQym9a7G— BMcCloskey (@BMcCloskey_98) May 25, 2021
Most people could give or take sparrows, as familiarity breeds not exactly contempt, but indifference. But as soon as you make what is commonplace rare, their importance is elevated. Dúlra watches their every move awe-struck and his heart soars when he opens the back door in the morning to be greeted by that tweet.
The opposite is also true. Last year Dúlra discovered a flock of our most rare and exotic visitors – waxwings – on a tree in Cook Street in the lower Omeau. They were truly stunning and he took loads of photographs for posterity. But after an hour, he knew it was time to go. And so he simply turned his back on the holy grail of Irish birds – ones he had waited a lifetime to see – and headed home.
After an hour, these Arctic birds of paradise were already becoming familiar and he was getting bored with them.
The next few weeks will be make or break for the sparrows. When the chicks become self-sufficient, the adults will want a second brood. Will they go back from whence they came, to their original nest, or will one of those terrace nestboxes finally attract them? Or will they just be a summer visitor?
Dúlra hopes that all that consistent feeding has finally paid off and the house sparrows, gealbhan tí in Irish, will stay put, like pioneers finding new lands of bounty.
The greenfinch is another sign of a shift for the better in local nature this year. This bird was once a common garden visitor, but it vanished for a decade after contracting a deadly disease at bird tables. This summer, a family descended on Dúlra’s garden and has stayed every day since.
There may be three birds in this photograph, but of course they only make up two bits of good news. The third piece of luck occurred last night.
The sky was still bright at about 11 o’clock when Dúlra dandered out into the garden. And flying around the street lamp across the road were two bats – mammals that haven’t been seen in the street for many years.
Maybe they were here all along, and it’s only the bright night that made them so visible. But if you ask Dúlra, nature is enjoying a long-awaited growth spurt in the summer of 2021.
• If you’ve seen or photographed anything interesting, or have any nature questions you can text Dúlra on 07801 414804.