5 April 2015
We have our own blackbird. I’m sure there are quite a lot of them living in our wood, and given that Britain alone hosts 5.1m breeding pairs, perhaps it’s not so unusual. But this one lives just under our bedroom window, nested so deeply in the bush that he’s all but impossible to see. Unlike many birds who breed here, the blackbird tends to establish a territory for life, doing so rather earlier in their lives than most humans. Their territory is quite small, so it seems likely that this blackbird who sings to me every morning is, quite literally, at home here. After the family business is done for the year and fledglings have left, territory becomes less important, and these birds will fly further afield to find the best food sources. It is surely a time of gustatory excess. But once autumn begins to tire and wintery reminders hit the air, the blackbird return to its territory to once again nest. We hear our blackbird singing throughout the winter, but it is now in the Spring when he is in full voice.
Every morning, between five and six, I am awoken by him. Sometimes I am awake in those hours of false dawn before real dawn awakens many. Sometimes the owls are calling, returning to nest sites and perhaps telling tales of their day-night. Usually the earliest voice is the crink-croak of the pheasant, no doubt wandering around looking lost and wondering just where he is. But then the blackbird begins his loud, sweet song.
We also have here in the wood a large colony of rooks. They have lived here longer than humans have lived here most likely – certainly for hundreds of years. Their well-established colony seems to self-manage reasonably well, despite our worries with the very successful breeding of last year. It seems in the end that the rookery is no bigger than it usually is. Some exult in their song. I do not. I find it rude and ugly and shouty, lacking in all subtlety. Perhaps this is a gross anthropomorphism. It seems odd or inconsistent to us when pretty birds make ugly sounds as they sometimes do – listen when you can to the call of the egret or the heron. But this is of course an absurdity. Rooks however are as black and as rude in their looks as they are in their song. Despite the intelligence and intensive socialisation, I find them hard to get to know or to like.
And so, with inevitability each morning soon after the blackbird begins his song, the rook awaken and begin their morning chatter. I have no doubt they have much to say, but I’m not terribly interested in it. They are loud and their voice outweighs that of the blackbird and the other songbirds who by now are also in full voice. It always makes me a little sad.
This morning is different. It’s been stormy and windy all night, and this morning as the dawn light outlines the still-bare trees on the limited horizon of my bedroom window, they are tossing wildly, disturbed and befuddled by the violence of the wind. The rooks, who live in the very top of the very tallest trees are hunkered down inside their strongholds, deciding that later, or never, will be the time to re-emerge. Their nests hold firm and they must be deep enough to hold what often seems like a large gaggle of birds.
So this morning, the blackbird solos the morning alone: I lie in the still sleep-warmed bed listening with an almost erotic pleasure to this sweet and dominant song. Many other voices have also been dimmed by the wind and the storm, but the blackbird remains well-protected by his well-hidden nest, and he sings, it seems, with pleasure at this solo appearance.