Ferocious battles taking place among Mayo's blackbird tribe

If only we could settle our disputes with music like they do


THIS snap of cold arrived just in time to pinch the flowers from black and red currants, as well as gooseberries.

I was afraid for the apple blossom, but after threatening to start opening that has gone back to sleep.

I keep catching the bullfinch pair at whatever fruit flowers take their fancy on any given day.

Today it was the cherry blossom that caught their attention.

At least it was the flowering cherry and not the fruiting ones. Perhaps we shall finally have a harvest from those after many years of waiting.

The bullfinch pulls one flower after another, turns each carefully in its beak and nips off the nectary, then lets the petals fall to the ground.

I watched him for a few minutes, during which he was continually busy.

At least he is alone this year – apart from his mate, that is.

In previous years these little 'budpickers', as they are known elsewhere, have arrived in flocks of 10 or 12 birds, the combined efforts of which can quickly strip a fruit tree of blossom.

The pair that we have in residence know well how I disapprove of their behaviour.

The moment they see me they fly away to skulk amid the hazel stems until they imagine I see them no more, and then they are back, helping themselves to what should become my late summer fruits.

I know what they say: “You'd only have the flowers for a week, but you can have us the whole year through.”

Indeed, that is so. Their nest will be low down in the brambles at the back hedge, a shallow saucer of twigs lined with fine roots and horsehair.

If things go well they will bring two families into the world, and if we get a particularly warm summer they might even manage a third.

I used to search sometimes, to find the home of other finches, together with the nest of thrush or warbler, but have learned to leave them well alone.

I think the magpie would watch me from afar and take careful note of what was found.

Then, when the nestlings would be nearly ready to fledge, down would come those black and white ogre birds to kidnap the babes and feed them to their own offspring.

Many magpie pairs already have their own nests built. Remember, when they nest high up in the trees we are sure to have a fine summer. Well, once more most are as high as they could possibly be. We shall wait and see if the birds are right.

Climatologists are telling us that world weather events are shaping up in such a way as to produce a very warm year for the northern hemisphere. How do they know? They must have been watching the magpies, that's all. Watch this space…

Perhaps you have noticed the ferocious battles taking place among the blackbird tribe.

Many of these are the result of resident males trying to drive out those that came here for the winter, either from Europe or further north.

Sometimes two resident birds will squabble over territory. Although ensuing fights look violent, I think it is rare for birds to actually be injured.

The real battles take place from the treetops, where the cock blackbirds station themselves each morning and again last thing at night. There they sing, at the tops of their voices.

It seems that one cannot bear to hear the voice of his neighbour, and so retreats far enough that his ears are no longer offended. Blackbirds with louder voices hold the larger territories and become the more successful breeders.

If only we could settle our own disputes with music.