Birds fly. It’s the thing everyone knows about birds: they fly. Yes, yes, penguins and ostriches – okay there are exceptions. But by and large, we think of birds as flying.
There are some who really do. Crows, gulls and birds of prey, for instance, have taken to the air like fish to water. Show-offs. And geese, honking as they go. Why do they honk? Just to keep the group together or does it help them breathe as they head in formation for the front line? It always sounds like desperate boasting to me. Made it, Ma. Top of the world!
But I digress. Your average garden bird isn’t a fish in water up in the air. It would much rather be perching on a twig, singing arias. It will run rather than fly, and if it has to take off, it treats it like crossing a river on slightly slippery stepping stones. Or it bounces along as if struggling on a space-hopper. Just…get…to the next…bush. Or better still, the bird feeding station. Never position a bird feeder too far from a useful bush.
I love them all as I watch them from the kitchen sink, the robins and sparrows, blackbirds and thrushes, tits and finches – oh and the poor woodpeckers who lunge for the next tree or telegraph pole like someone despairingly trying to leap the grand canyon. Apart from the occasional lightning visit by a passing sparrowhawk (which proves they can all fly if they have to), they have my garden and my lane to themselves until…
It’s May, and whoosh, the boys are back in town. Swallows, whizzing in at 90 miles an hour like boy racers on souped-up Harley-Davidsons, skimming past the old dears struggling with second gear in their elderly Morris Minors. And they twitter as they pass. Get off and milk it! Zoom. Low-level, high-level, who cares, Spitfires out to get the Third Reich gnats.
Having made their way here across the Equator, the Sahara, the Mediterranean and Europe, I wonder why they don’t just put their feet up when they get here. But obviously gnats are Nature’s version of Red Bull. With added caffeine. They do take occasional breaks, which is why telegraph wires exist, strung around the country for the sole purpose of offering perches for the rowdy gangs. I don’t care how insolent they are, though, or how noisy; they are Summer. I don’t care if it snows or tempests howl – if the swallows are back, it’s Summer. Just be ready to duck.
And when they go, Winter is coming.