Our neighbourhood’s buzzing and whining this week: the sound of hedges getting their annual haircut. This is when we discover the nests of birds that have completed their breeding cycle completely unnoticed. Last year we found a neat cup-shaped nest – probably the work of a dunnock. I certainly remember one singing its piercing little song as I went up and down the drive. I regret to say that when I was a child I spent many happy hours searching hedgerows for nests and then braving prickles and thorns to feel inside to see for eggs or young. I was cured of this nasty, and probably now illegal, habit when a mouse, napping in the abandoned nest, leapt out and ran up my blazer sleeve. Now I have neither the wish nor the agility to pry – I just try to notice and observe.
Depending on their parenting practice, birds differ widely in their nest preparation. I remember the first curlew’s nest I ever found – four olive eggs, splotched with dark brown and hidden in a rudimentary scrape beside a clump of rushes. Or the ring plover – whose nest on the beach – wonderfully camouflaged amid pebbles – was a small depression where finer shingle predominated. No need for elaborate provision when the chicks leave the nest as soon as their plumage has dried. Compare this with the lovely creation – strong and yet elastic with cobwebs – that long-tailed tits prepare for their family of up to 12 young. It can take three weeks or more to build. We watched a pair collecting spiders’ webs early last spring and now the whole family comes to feast on our fat balls but I’ve no idea where the nest was. Small birds need to be cautious.
A friend went to pick her red currents last week and discovered a grapefruit-sized ball of bracken and moss, quite solid and weighty, in the middle of the bush. She showed me a photo: bulky and untidy with a tiny side entrance – a wren’s nest. She’ll have to wait till she prunes the bush before she can feel inside and see if it is lined with feathers. If not, it’s one of three or four that the cock wren prepares for his mate; if she approves she lines it and lays the eggs. I watched a wren the other day as it foraged in our flowerbeds. It was tiny. Imagine him collecting materials and then building several of those hefty nest with just his beak! Then – he sings!