A pair of sparrowhawks have been nesting at the bottom of our garden.
I first noticed them courting in March, so my covid-lockdown diary became a hawk diary. Back then, when my garden was still full of birdsong and the sycamore branches were winter-bare, I had an amazing view of the two hawks sharing their version of romantic dinners.
A furious noise, one day early in April, got me worried that the female hawk was caught or injured. But she was just struggling to snap off a hawthorn twig with her beak. She took it to an ivy raft in an old plum tree, and that’s where they built their nest.
By the end of April, they had a hawk-highway across my garden, criss-crossing almost low enough to graze the top of my head. They had clear roles – he caught food, and she snatched it from him, sometimes in mid-flight.
The female spent a lot of time on the nest, calmly turning her yellow eyes to every sound. My garden filled up with plucked feathers. There was a lot less birdsong.
Then, on 21st June, I got a glimpse of a chick – a tiny fluffy white head just visible over the edge of the nest. Perhaps it was already a few days old, but for me that was Day One – my first sighting! I took a lot of blurry photos, and one or two that look like a chick.
By Day Six, I’d counted three balls of fluff. They looked like Easter chicks. When one stretched a wing, the length and shape of it was a surprise – a proper flying-wing shape, white fluff edged with dark feathers.
Their snowy whiteness disappeared almost overnight. On Day Seven, they’d turned a grubby grey. It was fun to watch them shoot their poop. The white splattering on the leaf litter was a big clue that there was a nest above.
By Day Ten, one chick liked to sit upright on the edge of the nest, showing off tawny breast feathers. It seemed to double in size in 24 hours. The mother moved out and chose to sit on a perch just above the nest.
On Day Thirteen, two chicks were sitting up on the nest-edge like dappled-ginger-fronted penguins. Their dark-spectacled heads, with a mohican tuft over their eyes, looked too small for their fluffy bodies. The third chick skulked behind them, harder to see.
They reminded me of Martin Waddell and Patrick Benson’s wonderful ‘Owl Babies’, waiting and hoping for Mum to come home.
Later that day, I saw a ball of ruffled fluff on the ground. The mother, on her usual perch, was unconcerned. The advice with fledglings is to leave them alone unless they deteriorate. So, apart from scaring off a stray cat, I let this one be. The last I saw of him, he was hop-climb-flying up a leaning tree-trunk, back towards the nest.
The next day I realised the nest was empty – the chicks had left to scramble about in the leafy branches.
Today, Day Fifteen, the mother is still sitting on her perch. She clearly knows where all her babies are. Soon I’ll be watching flying lessons. After that the babies will leave home, and the parents won’t be so tied to the territory.
Then, I hope, the songbirds will come back to my garden.