Let me state clearly from the outset that I have had no formal training in the science of ornithology. Prior to moving out here from the city centre four years ago, I had always thought that birds were divided into two categories – pigeons and seagulls. Relocating in the comparative rurality of Dublin 15 has been something of an eye -[and lung-] opener for me.
It began with a couple of bird-feeders, purchased for peanuts and hung on hooks on the eaves of our shed. The seed and peanuts to fill them were ironically more expensive than the feeders, but our newly-found love of nature deemed it worth it. We also invested in a cheap pair of binoculars and a pocket-sized bird identification book. Eagerly, we retired to the kitchen to watch the flocks of grateful, eager birds that would doubtless come swooping down from a five-mile radius to avail of our tempting offerings.
One thing you quickly learn from the art of birdwatching is patience. Just as it may take you a long time to find out that a particular shop in Blanchardstown stocks your favourite flavour of jelly, so the birds have no magical radar that hones in on particular tasty peanuts. They might be swanning around, showing off in front of land-restricted animals, when they suddenly spy the peanut feeder and come down to investigate. When one considers the number of gardens on a bird’s daily flight path, though, it is a wonder that they discover the feeders at all.
The first to come are the sparrows. They are the most fearless and the most inquisitive. There are hedge sparrows and house sparrows and dunnocks, each with different pigmentation for male, female and juvenile. Basically, though, if it’s small and brown with a non-sticky-up tail, it’s a sparrow.
Hot on the sparrow’s tail-feathers come the starlings. These are spotty yobs, who are just too big to perch on the seed feeder, but are well able for the peanuts. Like the sparrows, they tend to visit in packs, and frequently squabble with each other over feeding priority.
In our experience, the greenfinch was the next to arrive. When the peanut feeder is vacant, he will sit upon the washing line looking around nonchalantly, and then quickly make a dart for the feeder. He is often bullied off it by the starlings, though any sympathy one might have disappears at his absolute refusal to share with any other greenfinch.
We have a wren that visits occasionally, although it could be a brown tennis ball with a beak and a vertical tail. He doesn’t hang around for long, obviously deeply distressed at being called a “wran” on St. Stephen’s Day.
Probably the most colourful visitors to our garden [with the exception of my mad Uncle Toby] are the goldfinches. Decorated in vivid reds and yellows, we have a family that visits us several times a day. Actually, I am unsure of their relationship to each other. They could be five complete strangers for all I know, and it is not the sort of information that they willingly volunteer. Timid little creatures, they are right at the bottom of the feeder pecking order [sorry] and even get muscled off by ladybirds.
The blue tit often visits in early morning, catching the peanuts rather than worms. A curious blend of blues, yellow and white, we have often confused him with a great tit, which annoys him immensely. The duller, coal tit is a less frequent visitor, due to his inferiority complex at only being in black and white.
The perennial Christmas favourite, Robin No-mates, can appear daily for weeks on end, and then disappear for months. The informed opinion is that this antisocial creature has some kind of drug-dependency problem, and makes frequent trips to rehab. Too fat to tackle either of the feeders, he will scavenge on the ground for the seeds that the sparrows drop in their feverish excitement.
The blackbird is often to be found in our shrubbery with his drab spouse. Contrary to Paul McCartney’s assertion, I have never heard him sing in the dead of night, and I suspect he’s tucked up in his nest at that hour, like most self-respecting flying things.
Another common visitor to our garden, though not the feeders, is a largish brown thing with a speckled breast. My wife and I are at loggerheads over whether it is a song thrush, a mistle thrush, or a meadow pipit, though it rarely comes to blows. He bounds around the lawn searching for worms, while his mate keeps lookout on top of the wall. I have been tempted to tell him it is all perfectly legal, but he seems to enjoy living on the edge.
Last year we had a family [yes, I’m guessing] of redpolls that took a shine to our lavender bush. For some strange reason, there is no sign of them this year, though I suspect the fact that the lavender bush withered and died may have something to do with it.
That would be the sum total of birds that venture into our garden. Not a great deal, but a darned sight more than visited when we were townies. And more than visited before we got the feeders. In addition to these, we also have fieldfares on the green opposite our house, and killer crows, rooks, ravens and jackdaws, that swoop and prowl menacingly, looking for small children to carry off to their lairs. And the massive blue and white magpie, who must be totally driven demented by that stupid children’s rhyme. And every estate seems to own a pair of totally dense wagtails who stand in the middle of the road, watching as a car approaches, only to scuttle [not fly] out of the way at the last moment.
And so my ornithological skills are progressing, and I am eagerly awaiting my first sighting of a hooped macaw and an albino penguin. It certainly livens up the winter months, watching the little creatures flitting about, although, as advised, we remove the feeders during the summer.
However, to my horror, I gazed out of the kitchen window the other morning, and there, sitting on the back wall, was a pigeon. Not a wood pigeon or a lesser spotted bearded Mongolian pigeon, but a common or garden Moore Street pigeon. He was the first I have seen out here. A sure sign that the metropolis is chasing after us.