Birdsong and bird mayhem


Did we always have thrushes singing in mid-winter, asked this friend from 50 miles outside Dublin? The same question had arisen in South Dublin over both thrushes and blackbirds. Did they always sing in the morning in mid-winter - or is it just that we are so grateful for any relief from the filthiest weather most of us remember. Whatever the answer, many thanks to the morning (very early, often in darkness) songsters.

Most of us don't show much enthusiasm for birds and bird song until we are up against it in some way. Herbert Reeves, for example, the astrophysicist who contracted some illness in the Sahara. Recuperating after severe operations, he used to take walks in the countryside, meeting wrens, warblers, robins, blackbirds and many others. The dedication to his book Oiseaux, Merveilleux Oiseaux ends: "It was in their company I wrote this book. I am grateful for the happiness they brought me."

Do we all realise what joy comes from being surrounded by birds. They are an endless study and delight throughout life, if only we have the eyes and ears for them.

A letter from Monsignor Denis O'Callaghan in Mallow on the subject of wars between different birds. We have had rooks versus starlings. This time it is ravens and peregrine falcons. The then Parish Priest, Fr Sean O'Leary, was an observer of the occasion. O'Donoghue's Castle beside the parochial house in Glenflesk, Kerry, provided a traditional nesting place for two ravens. A pair of peregrine falcons moved in on the site. Naturally, the ravens objected but were forced to cede possession overnight.

Come daylight, writes the Monsignor, the ravens returned with reinforcements - another pair of ravens. Again battle raged. In speed and manoeuvrability the falcons had the advantage, but the ravens were doughty opponents in defence tactics. Eventually a concerted attack left one raven dead and another disabled. The survivors withdrew to a safe distance and decided that discretion was the better part of valour - in keeping with the Irish proverb: "Is fearr rith maith na droch seasamh".

The Monsignor adds that this doesn't answer the question as to how the ravens sent out the signal for help. The colleagues did not just come out of curiosity - they came ready for action, armed and cap a pe.