“You got a probwem, ven?” WIth what appears to be half a slice of meat pie hanging from his beak, the crow looks his least prepossessing. He also mumbles.
“Don’t talk with your beak full,” I rebuke him. “It’s not a problem, exactly. More a question of timing.”
Dropping his gravy-laden prize onto his lamp post perch, Crow deftly stops its fall with one claw. He stares in at me through my office window suspiciously. “Timing what exac’ly?”
“The two bird feeders in the back garden – when to stop refilling them.”
“Oh, them! Not one of yer life-changin’ dilemmas, is it then?” He returns his attention to his fragment of pastry, pecking at it reflectively, “Never bothered me much, them.”
It’s true; they don’t. In the days before his seaside interlude, he and a couple of his mates on a boys’-day-out raided the feeders, which finished up in the flowerbeds, emptied but otherwise unharmed. Once a seagull (Crow swears it was a seagull) flew off with an entire feeder. Mostly, though, Crow’s diet comprises higher things; to wit, one meat pie,another beakful of which is his current focus for ingestion.
“Stop fillin’ em.”
“What about the sparrows? What will they eat?” I reason.
“Sparrers?!? Bleedin’ sparrers??” His expostulation is so violent crumbs of pie reach my window, spattering the glass; “Bugger the sparrers mate, fink of Monty!”
“Monty? Yer mean yer don’ know? His fam’ly been livin’in yer garden fer years an yer don’ know? Well, I tell you what, mate. You find out ‘ho Monty is an’ you ask ‘im what he finks abaht sparrers!” Crow’s pie resource is exhausted. “Time to go! I got places ter be. You ask Monty!”
Watching him fly away I ponder his challenge. Crow doesn’t understand that our duologue is my only communication with a bird, or any animal species, come to that. Whatever or whoever ‘Monty’ is, in order to have value in Crow’s eyes he must be other than human, and therefore beyond my capability to converse.
It is a doomed abductive exercise. The creatures that frequent my garden include a hedgehog, at least one urban fox, the odd cat and several species of bird. I fall at the first fence because I have no means of knowing which of these enjoys the sobriquet ‘Monty’, and no way to ask. Nevertheless it is Crow’s opening gambit when he returns to the lamp post later this morning.
“Know ‘oo Monty is yet, then?” I confess my ignorance. “Well, mate, that’s ‘ow yer treats yer residents, innit? Yer got no sense o’ responsibility, have yer?”
“All right, I know you’re dying to tell me. Who is ‘Monty’, how am I failing him, and what has that to do with the feeders?”
Have you ever seen a crow shake its head? It’s at once a marvellous and incongruous gesture. “Monty,” He says with triumphant emphasis “Is yer resident blackbird. Black-bird, see?”
I can’t help smiling. Giving a name to the frantic little creature who spends his life in hopeless pursuit of garden domination doesn’t move me to sympathy. The crow’s tone is one of reproof:
“Yer don’t fink much of ‘im, then? Yer don’t fink he deserves respect?”
“And I suppose you’re going to tell me he does?”
I’m treated to one of Crow’s censorious frowns, “He lives off yer garden, don’t he? I mean, winter and summer he lives from yer land, drummin’ fer worms, keepin’ them unner control for yer, eatin’ pests, an’ ‘at? ‘E’s a resident, mate. Isn’t that worth nuffin?”
I protest: “He’s not nice to the sparrows. He spends half his life trying to chase them away. He’s aggressive!”
“Wouldn’ you be? That bay tree you got, that’s where ‘e ‘as ter build ‘is nest, innit. Its fick enuff ter disguise a nest, an’ somewhere to ‘ide his kids under when they’re learnin’ ter fly. ‘An’ Monty – ‘im – he’s clever see? ‘E knows there’s on’y room fer one blackbird nest in yer garden ‘cause there’s on’y enough feed fer ‘isself an’ his missus, so ‘e chases off any uvver blackbirds, don ‘e?”
“He’s not entirely effective in doing even that!” I sense a rant, so I try to get my scruffy black friend to elucidate; “He’s trying to keep a natural balance, is that what you’re saying?”
“Yeah. That’s it. But what do you do? Yer comes along wiv yer bleedin’ feeders, don’t yer, an’ yer hangs ‘em just up the fence from the bay tree, an’ before yer know it the bay tree’s full o’ bleedin’ sparrers.
“Sparrers ever’where! No manners!”
“What about the starlings?” I remind him gently.
“What abaht..?” He arches his wings in a gesture of restrained impatience. “We’re not talkin’ abaht no starlin’s, matey, oh no! Starlin’s, they’re jus’ like raiders, see? They comes and they goes, they don’ build they’re nests nowhere ‘ere. But them sparrers, they moves in, don’ they? They nest there ‘cause it’s a short ‘op to free food. They don’t care nuffin fer yer garden, mate. They don’t care if their noise draws every cat in the neighbour’ood to Monty’s tree, ‘cause they know the biggest bird in it ain’t them – it’s Monty. Any cat’d go for ‘im first. They trample his turf so ‘e can’t hunt his worms, an’ they flock around the place like they own it, but shall I tell yer somefin’?”
“Yeah!” The crow’s in full spate now, neck extending, wings punching his sides. “They don’ give a toss, mate, them sparrers. Soon as the bes’ of the food goes, they go. They aint goin’ ter starve – nah, not them! They’ll just move to the next garden and strip that. Af’er they finished wiv’ Monty they go an’ look up some of his cousins!”
Crow fluffs up his feathers to adopt what I’m sure he believes to be an imitation of a human pose. He clearly intends to mimic me. “When ter stop refillin’ the feeders? Stop now! Maybe Monty‘ll have more chance of gettin’ his kids into the air before the cats get ‘em.”
He raises a foot to scratch at his neck, “Or I do.”
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