Of swindlers, robbers and executioners
The stories told here are not for the faint-hearted. According to human moral standards, they are all about the rejection of all ethical behaviour and the deep abyss of social machinations. Things get really bad in the bird kingdom. So think twice: do you really want to read on? I warned you….
This time I‘ll start in autumn/winter. This is the time when the eagle owl starts its search for a mate. What a joy it is to watch the flight of a courting pair of eagle owls! One evening, the unmistakable calls of two of these mighty birds sounded in different trees in the neighbourhood. And those close, clear, loud “ooooooo” cries (her answer is a little softer and somehow nicer, more reserved) in the dark of night can make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. When the two big birds (length approx. 70 cm, wingspan approx. 2 m) flew in circles in the light of the street light, my heart almost stopped with excitement. I was so happy to be able to experience this. But the situation was spooky mainly because I heard nothing of their skilled flight, nothing at all! The wings of these nocturnal flyers are equipped with special feathers that enable them to fly almost silently, so that they can strike their prey, whose hearing is keen because they are also nocturnal, without making any sound.
You are already familiar with my garden: lots going on there. In spring, when the gang of sparrows turn up for my fat balls, there are easily a dozen of them before their offspring join them. Since each pair of parents has about 4 – 6 young, the number of social parasites multiplies considerably later in the spring. This always brings a smile to my face. But when, at the same time, 14 jackdaws pounce on the same fat balls and cawing loudly tear down all the feeders so that they can get at the dumplings better, it reminds me of a scary film that many of you know. And this memory becomes all the more intense the more the black crows congregate on the opposite house gable, chattering loudly after I have shooed them off. I then always have the feeling that they are fetching their friends and eyeing me closely. And conspiring how they can take revenge. They always think of something. After all, I have several feeding stations in the garden.
When a pair of tits decide to inhabit a nest box, they will have already tested a lot of other nesting possibilities beforehand. If something goes wrong, the pair can choose another nesting box with little fuss and resume brooding. In general, there is a dangerous scramble for the most coveted nesting sites. When a pied flycatcher returns from West Africa, for example, it likes to attach itself to a local pair of great tits and inspect the tits’ potential nests. This makes it easier for it in his search for suitable homes. But sometimes it pays for this intrusive pursuit with its life. If it tries to penetrate a nest that has already been occupied by tits, the tit parent in the nest will lever on the intruder’s head with its beak until it separates from the body and the enemy falls decapitated on the ground in front of the nest. In the highly recommendable book “Critique of Birds” 1, it is not for nothing that they speak of “Satan’s Tit”.
While we are on the subject of nesting: Birds also prefer detached houses in a “long-distance-neighbourhood”. If a tit’s nest seems too close to its own, the “lovely” robin, which we hold in such high esteem, unceremoniously removes all the nesting material that the still childless couple has already installed from their nest. It just loves undisturbed solitude. It takes a little while for the distraught tits to realise what is happening to them. This can lead to considerable additional stress in the breeding business. But they have at least discovered other nesting possibilities, which hopefully are not yet inhabited by others.
In general, we should not underestimate those cute robins. Sometimes they fight with their fellow species so intensively that both withdraw bleeding and licking their wounds. And blackbirds are in no way inferior to the redbreast roughnecks. In spring, they peck at everything that looks yellow and, in their eagerness to fight, sometimes mistake a yellow crocus for a rival. Their readiness to fight is legendary, even in flight it is a spectacle. According to the author Roth, they are “aggressive distancers and off-shovers”.
Tits lay an egg every day over a fixed period of time and decide individually how many of the eggs they will incubate. This has to do with the fact that they can estimate how much food there will be nearby. So when we clean the nests in autumn for the next spring, every now and then we find a red speckled egg that has not been incubated.
You have probably heard of the cuckoo’s parasitism. It lays its eggs in the nesting sites of much smaller birds, such as the reed warbler. It always lays one egg in a nest. When the cuckoo hatches, it first disposes of all its step-siblings with a supernatural effort and then insists loudly on being fed by its foster parents. They do an equally super-avian job and feed the alien chick as if it were their own. If bird researchers are to be believed, the cuckoo, exhausted after a long journey, thus ensures personal relief and uses fewer resources. I just wonder why this species has developed this behaviour and others have not?
We will clarify these questions in Part 3, when we will say again: A front garden is by no means grey, rather full of horror.
Original text: HFI
English translation: BCO
1 Jürgen & Thomas Roth, Kritik der Vögel