Laura Kennedy: It might be nice to operate on autopilot, like birds
Blue tits may be darling but it looks as if the torture of life is slowly bringing them down
“Reader, he knocked her up. To the tune of about eight chicks.” Photograph: Peter Austin via Getty Images
There are a couple of blue tits who live around the back of our house. They loiter menacingly in the scrubby copse near our kitchen window, throwing their 10g weight around and wailing shrilly at each other like tiny versions of the traders on nearby Moore Street. I have always had a tender feeling for birds, but I understand this to be unreasoned. I anthropomorphise them, but really many of them are tiny, murderous predators and professional gobshites. The blue tits are darling to look at, but I’ve seen them reign terror from above on the insect population of our patch of Dublin, suddenly streaking into sight from nowhere, menacing as Soviet bombers, raining red death upon the caterpillars that languish plumply on half-eaten leaves. When they’re not eradicating insects, they are hanging blowsily upside down from things and shrieking into one other’s faces like portly drunks.
His mate, a tiny female with legs like cocktail sticks, looks put-upon, and I don’t doubt that she is
The male blue tit isn’t respectable. He is larger than his mate, and has the bearing of a pugnacious but unsuccessful solicitor – the sort who seeks out clients who amble in front of cars for the compensation money. The bird’s little blue jacket of wings looks polyester from a distance, rather straining over his rotund feathered belly, and the crest of blue atop his white head has a look of recession about it, as though he is moving very fast while simply standing about. He seems like the sort of bird that drops his washing off at his elderly mother’s on Sundays. His mate, a tiny female with legs like cocktail sticks, looks put-upon, and I don’t doubt that she is. Lately they have been bustling in and out of a tiny hole in the garden wall, which is very high and very old, with a determination and pace that reminds me of the foot traffic into my apartment building when I lived next to a brothel.
Reader, he knocked her up. To the tune of about eight chicks. At least that’s what a quick google tells me is the average brood of puppies or goslings or flaminglets or whatever it is baby blue tits are called – tittles? – that a lady blue tit will lay after unsatisfactory annual coitus with a pompous husband who takes her for granted. I don’t see how their common law marriage (he’s been promising her a ring as soon as his horse comes in and she knows by now that his horse is never coming in) can survive the pressure. Apparently, it is not uncommon for a parent bird to enter the nest every 90 seconds to feed a chick before reeling back out, rambling to themselves from exhaustion, through the wall hole to locate more delicious spider meat to satiate their demonically hungry, constantly growing progeny.
I have relocated to the kitchen table to work, so that I can watch the wonders of nature or, if you prefer, the systematic torture of these two birds, who frankly had a hard life before eight groaning maws burst their dreams of a two-up-two-down in Phibsborough, and maybe going back to do a master’s in communications, whatever that is. The “tittles” (we’ll stick with it) jut their screaming beaks out of the hole in the wall, beckoning their parents back so they can bleed them dry. Day by day, they get bigger, their backs once softly furred with yellow and brown baby feathers now sprouting rather drabber greyish interim feathers. Surely they will soon leave the nest to pursue careers in petty crime or chimney sweeping or whatever, leaving their drained parents to drop dead from stress.
Of course, I’m anthropomorphising. It might be nice sometimes to operate like the blue tits, on a sort of autopilot, enacting imperatives deeply coded into their evolution so that they don’t even realise that their children are horrible tiny monsters and their lives a Ferris wheel where all the horses have lizard heads and the grand prize is dying when the music stops. It might be nice. “Thank goodness we’re a better class of animal,” I think, horsing into an uninspiring slice of two-day-old banana bread and feeling distinctly unsettled.