It was time to sit on the fence. Time for a hunter’s break, time to preen, pick and pull at his own breast feathers instead of ripping out those of another bird. Time to slowly stretch one long leg out from the top rail, the raptor’s yoga exercise. The chicken-yellow extended foot uncurled its toes to flash claws like a climber’s crampons.
This young male sparrowhawk was a pocket predator, so much smaller than a female, his beak not much bigger than a budgie’s. A yearling bypassed by the burgeoning spring, he had no mate to provide for, no young to feed. Plenty of time to just perch around.
In doing so brazenly in the open, he had disquieted a whole neighbourhood of small birds. Ten minutes passed, and still the chip-chip calls persisted. Still the sparrowhawk sat, his preening over, nothing to do. A waft of breeze lifted his skirts, raising a tuft of feathers on his flanks, and he glanced down as if surprised at being so dishevelled.
Quarter of an hour had gone, and the angry cries kept raining on the sparrowhawk. Now and then, he rolled his head, cocking an eye skywards to locate the complainer. Was he old enough and experienced enough to understand exactly why the birds were so upset?
By now most, if not all, of the shouting was coming from starlings. One flew to the top of a spruce tree overlooking the sparrowhawk’s seat, a big worm or caterpillar in its beak. Another dropped on a nearby branch, also carrying something substantial. Instinct told them to stay clear of the raptor, but instinct also impelled them towards their newly hatched babies, and the conflict played out in their agitated voices. Self-preservation won for now, and both birds made for rooftop viewpoints where they could see both sparrowhawk and nest. The tirade continued.
At last, a languid sweep of the wings carried the intruder away. Within a minute, a starling had scrabbled into the nest box above my right ear. By the next morning, high cheeps were audible. The back and forth of provisioning had begun. Would a pair of opportunistic eyes be watching?