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Our garden birds can be both beautiful and beastly

grower working in field

The RSPB is holding its annual Big Garden Birdwatch this weekend inviting us all to spend an hour outside counting our feathered friends.  Schumacher grower Emilia Brumpton reflects on those who visit Henri's Field. 

When thinking of how to describe the bird community we share Henri’s field with, here at Schumacher College, the first thought that comes to mind is “battle field”.

Perhaps this may be surprising as we think of our local birds as the smaller types that sing to us in the garden however the beasts of the bird world reside in our field.

My first example is from yesterday morning when I watched a Herring Gull and Crow dual as if in a dance-battle – taking it in turns to jump at the other whilst raising their wings up above them and pecking their beaks forward in a mocking way.

There was even another Herring Gull on the side lines, as if there for moral support for their fellow gull.

Later that afternoon I watched in awe as a Kestrel swooped down through the tree tops that line the lower edge of Henri’s field whilst being chased by a train of Jackdaws who took it in turns to swoop down at the bird of prey.

This behaviour is regular entertainment in our fields and is known as ‘mobbing’ – a communal affair where potential prey call and harass a predator.

Often mobbing is used to deter a predator to a safe distance from prey birds nests or to reduce the predators element of surprise – on which it often relies on to succeed in a hunt – by making a big fuss of its presence.

And it is not uncommon for us to find remnants of a hunted pigeon – on one occasion, we heard a Sparrowhawk capture a smaller bird mid-flight and feast on it in the boughs of the Monterey Pine that overlooks Henri’s field.

Stories of life and death amongst the bird community is a narrative repeated in our fields and supports us in growing.

These larger birds prey on animals that prey on our crops – such as rabbits and voles – keeping our ecology in balance. And of course, there are other birds in the field other than the dramatic birds of prey and their carnivorous behaviours.

Cheeky Robins are always nearby us gardeners, eagerly waiting for titbit’s dropped at lunch or stalking soil we turn over as we work, looking for juicy worms.

During this time in late winter they are more eager than ever – flying into buildings if we leave the doors open – to seek nourishment.

Or perhaps a good story as local artist, Azul Thomas, tells us that Robin’s love to hear the stories that us humans share. We are also blessed with the presence of the tall and rather elegant Heron in our top and bottom grow sites at Schumacher.

They move slowly, gracefully and sometimes they stay perfectly still – unless you trundle in the field with your wheelbarrow noisily which they dislike and will take off immediately.

The final bird I’ll mention in our tales of Birds in Henri’s field is the Magpie – another bird – who isn’t seen as regularly but you will know they are around if you forget to pick up the duck and chicken eggs in the morning as you can be sure they will grab them up for their breakfast!