Friday, 7 July 2017

Aerial Torpedoes

A pair of magpies lands on the roof of a house a little way down the road. Immediately below them, a newly started house martin’s nest is under construction at the apex of the eaves. Within seconds the air is full of martins dive-bombing the magpies, which in reality have absolutely no chance of reaching the nest, even if it held young. Although there are only a couple of pairs of martins nesting near our cottage, it would appear that the entire village population has joined in the attack, emitting their high-pitched alarm calls. The effect is dramatic, and both magpies are driven away within a couple of minutes.

I guess one either loves, or loathes magpies; personally I love them, even though they really do take large numbers of eggs and young of smaller birds. They’re handsome, beautiful creatures, not only just black and white, but with wonderful iridescent blues and greens, and would not be out of place on an expensive bird watching trip to the tropics. The number of breeding British magpies has increased more than two fold during the last couple of decades, and it is this that has probably added to their already bad reputation. There is even an organisation whose primary aim is to reduce their numbers, in spite of the fact there is no scientific evidence that they are in any way connected with the demise of many species of our smaller birds. 

Our garden blackbirds are feeding a fully-grown brood, and attack the magpies with incessant alarm calls whenever they come close, but their acoustic deterrent is nothing like as effective as the dive-bombing techniques of the house martins, which we like to think of as aerial torpedoes.

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