When birds saved my life
I spent ten chairbound years looking out of a window onto a garden and a its birds.
I was seldom down or bored - because of the birds. They kept me going.
I can still remember the first Goldfinch I ever saw . A roadside of thistles glimpsed from the car held two excitingly unfamiliar birds. The sparks of colour brought a touch of the exotic to that urban scene. I knew I'd seen something like it in my Observers Book of Birds. Then came a flash of recognition as I mentally matched the painting of a Goldfinch with the finch-of-paradise I'd just seen
It's funny how birds seemed more brightly coloured when I was a boy. Even so, many Goldfinches later, I still get a frisson of pleasure every time I see that combination of red, black, yellow and the warmest of warm browns. It's just a brilliant design - whoever's responsible deserves an award!
Being chairbound, the garden and its wildlife has become very important to me. So when two Goldfinches put in a brief appearance, I felt honoured. A couple of days later seven came and fed on birdseed. They seemed to be increasing daily. To have twenty feeding on the lawn just outside the window seemed remarkable enough, but then fifty came, then seventy!
Over the last couple of years numbers had dwindled, seemingly edged out by squirrels and pigeons. Then last December I discovered niger seed, and like the woman in the soap powder ad, I'm glad I made the switch. It's a Goldfinch magnet. To my delight flocks, or should I call them ‘megacharms’ arrived almost immediately.
Fifty at the beginning of the month rapidly increased to an amazing 202 by the 27th. I was expecting a white Christmas not a Goldfinch coloured one.
This was quite a sight - my very own suburban, wildlife spectacular. They would arrive at daybreak. The garden seemed to be their first port-of-call after leaving their roosts. Small groups arrived from all directions, homing in on our willow tree. A tinkling, twittering chorus built in volume as the flock topped a hundred. They seemed for all the world, to be comparing notes. Then all of a sudden it went quiet and the Goldfinches cascaded down like coloured snow. Where there had been lawn there was now a tapestry of birds - a carpet made of feeding, squabbling Goldfinch.
While one Goldfinch is jumpy, a hundred together are positively neurotic, so almost immediately they were off. Sometimes they seemed so skittish that they hardly seemed to do any feeding at all. With a hundred nervous individuals there was always one to spot some danger; real, or more often, imaginary. In trade-union fashion, once one left they all did.
On one occasion even the opening bars of a Robin song set them off. This behaviour has survival value, of course. Despite the frequent attentions of a couple of Sparrow Hawks they never got near the flock.
During January's cold snap the Goldfinches revealed hidden talents in the field of snow-clearance. On one morning an inch of fresh snow blanketed the garden. At first a few landed on the snow and seemed rather nonplussed. Then reinforcements arrived. After a bit of judicious shuffling they were down to the seeds and in no time a patch of snow had been cleared. Perhaps they could rescue people in the Alps! Perhaps they should be re-named St. Bernard’s Finches!
I wrote to the British Trust for Ornithology about the Goldfinches. They replied saying it was the largest garden flock they had heard of. What a privilege - after all there can't be a lot of gardens that have so many Goldfinches that they trample the lawn!