Tuesday, 7 March 2017

A view to a kill

As far as excuses go, I don’t think “The sparrowhawk ate my woodpigeon” is going to wash when I explain why I’m a bit behind on my work – but it’s what held me up yesterday.  I’d come in from my Shedio (shed/studio, out in the garden) to make a cuppa, got sidetracked checking emails, and when I went back to the kitchen to get my tea I witnessed some very gruesome bird-on-bird action through the window.

I’m glad I missed the initial attack - must’ve been pretty harrowing.  The woodpigeon is a big old bird and weighs about half as much again as a female sparrowhawk.  However, with her speed and stealth, the sparrowhawk had ambushed it and was already plucking out its feathers whilst pinning it to the ground, ready to eat.  Sadly, it was probably still alive.

Once the sparrowhawk started tucking in to its prey I realised I too was ambushed in a way –  trapped inside the house because going back to work in the Shedio would mean disturbing her and I didn’t want to.   My reasons being: a) until most of it had been eaten, the woodpigeon would be too big for the sparrowhawk to carry away in her claws to finish elsewhere so its death would’ve been futile and, frankly, what a waste of fresh meat  and, b) I didn’t really want the job of clearing up the crime scene.

So I decided to wait until the sparrowhawk had eaten the whole bloody thing even though it would take hours. 

Anyway, next time I glanced out the window the hawk was on the fence, empty-footed, cleaning her talons before  flying off.  Finally (but too late to get on with any more work, honest)  I could go outside.  It looked like there had been a small explosion in a feather duvet shop but, apart from that,no sign of any other pigeon remains.

When I looked out this morning, though, the sparrowhawk was there again.  And so was what was left of the woodpigeon, having its bones picked clean by the look of it.  I was surprised – seems the hawk must have left it hidden somewhere overnight and returned to retrieve it and finish it off today; I didn’t know they did that.  

The sparrowhawk and I both ate our breakfasts and by the time I’d finished so had she.  So I went outside to survey the scene, and this time I found a foot.  A whole woodpigeon foot, that was all. But be thankful I've spared you a photo.

Now, don’t be too put off, but I have a macabre fascination with this kind of thing and don’t find it gruesome at all.  Maybe because it’s all part of the way nature works.  Perhaps also because I when I was growing up my sister used to keep strange pickled things in her bedroom and I don’t mean onions.  She had a bat, fish eyeballs, a chicken’s foot – all to satisfy her interest in Biology.  Once we were on holiday, driving slowly along a quiet country road in Dorset, when my mum spotted something unusual just up ahead, motionless on the tarmac but looking like a snake.  Indeed, it was a large grass snake.  Dead, but perfectly preserved (no tyre marks).  

It’s only on recapping this story that I realise it may seem bizarre that we stopped , picked it up off the road and drove on with it in the car.  Then my mum and sister spent the next day traipsing round chemist shops in the Lyme Regis area in pursuit of formaldehyde.  And they got some.  So then we kept a  dead grass snake pickled in a jam jar of formaldehyde in the hotel room for the rest of the holiday (before it was given permanent residency on my sister's grim specimen shelf).

But I digress; the disembodied foot is still out there in the garden and I suspect it may have belonged to Limpy, who was a regular woodpigeon visitor, recognisable by (as you probably guessed) a limp.  Just now another woodpigeon has been sitting on the roof for an awfully long time, cooing and calling, probably for its mate, and no-one turned up. 

However, the sparrowhawk has feasted well.  It can’t be an easy life for this magnificent bird of prey, having to catch other birds on the wing – eating little else – this is a committed carnivore.  The female can survive for seven days without food apparently so hopefully a belly full of woodpigeon will keep her hunger at bay for another week.  If not she can always come back for the foot.

RIP Limpy (I think).


  1. It's a difficult one isn't it if you are a bird lover - The old circle of life an' all that but if you've enjoyed a bird visiting your garden (albeit with a limp) it's really sad to see them become another bird's dinner.

    Must admit I was never keen on Biology at school let alone have things pickling in formaldehyde in my bedroom so good on you for getting used to all that whilst growing up - I think I actually fainted the first time we had to dissect something. What a lightweight!

    1. Yes - a difficult one. I'm a huge bird lover and do everything I can to give them a safe haven here with all the provisions they need - the inevitability of that is that it also attracts the sparrowhawks of course. I feel quite privileged to see one close up, quite a thrill - a fantastic bird which I feel for in a way as it has to use so much energy to hunt, unlike all the others here with a ready supply of seeds at their convenience! But there's the downside. I'm just so glad it wasn't one of our 'tame' blackbirds, which would be particularly distressing, but I'm aware that one day it may well be - I'll just have to accept that's how it works sometimes.

      I was terrible at all the sciences at school, and very squeamish in Biology. It's only as an adult that I feel differently, and then only because the death of something like I describe above is also life-giving to another creature - unlike the poor pregnant rat specimens that were brought out for dissection at school (I deliberately skipped that lesson!)

  2. The descriptions of your Sister's collection reminded me of having some classes in the medical library at Addenbrooks and being surrounded by the most bizarre and gruesome specimens in jars and trying very hard not to look at them!

    1. Eww, I wouldn't have been able to look either! Animal remains are one thing, but anything vaguely human would make me extremely queasy...(my imagination has gone into overdrive now just at your mention!)

  3. Fabulous post C. I can't get over the tale of the snake and the quest for a jar of formaldehyde while you were on holiday. It sounds like the title of an old horror story - 'settle down children while I tell you the tale of the old pickled snake of Lyme Regis...'
    (The original comment I was going to leave here morphed into a post of my own for reasons that will become apparent - read all about it soon!)

    1. Thanks TS! It must have seemed odd yet it was somehow strangely normal for my family... but looking back rather nice to have such interests nurtured and encouraged. There's more where that came from - I didn't mention the (live) aquatic worm-eating toads, so perhaps another post!
      I'll look forward v much to yours too.

  4. Brilliant post C. nature can be cruel, love can be cruel....I feel a song coming on. Old Ma struggles watching animal programmes when there is a kill being show. No problem with a war movie and soldiers being blown to bits.

    1. Thanks Old Pa, I know you like your nature too - but it can be tough to witness sometimes...

  5. Could not resist:


    The lion stalks the little fawn
    ready to make her kill
    the hawk ambushes a robin
    going home to nest
    the shark swallows a penguin
    swimming out for food
    a spider spins its silky web
    on unsuspecting flies

    a woman brings a man to his knees
    when she crosses him in love

    The snake constricts the mouse
    squeezing out its life
    the scorpion stings its foe
    poising it to death
    the jackals hunting together
    to bring a prey down
    Mosquitoes suck your blood
    leaving malaria behind

    Rats pass on their diseased bite
    sharing the black death
    Piranhas strip away flesh
    biting vicious teeth
    the Tiger stalks their prey
    get ready to pounce
    a Saltie sneaks up on you
    gets you in deaths roll

    a woman brings a man to his knees
    when she crosses him in love

    1. Excellent Old Pa, thanks!
      We women are all sparrowhawks really....


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