This is the face of a killer:
I nearly trod on the fledgling wren. A tiny bundle of feathers with a beak, it was right in the middle of the path. I urged it to take cover. Gratifyingly it moved onto the grass and that was when I realised there were other similar bundles moving about. The parent wrens seemed very relaxed about their babies being so exposed. Much more relaxed than I was. I tried to herd the babies towards denser cover. Misunderstanding my motives, one of the adults then made that tommy gun sound that seems much too loud for a small bird. Good, I thought, now they’ll realise the babies are in danger and get them off the ground to somewhere safer.
Only they didn’t. Back indoors, MasterB signalled his desire to go out. I hunched over the work I was doing and ignored him. He became more vocal. I let him out onto the landing. The hallway amplified his cries. I went out, shutting the door in his face, to see if the coast was clear. No babies. Hurrah.
My boy came out. I followed him into the garden just in case. Horrors. A little feathery creature hopped insouciantly across the path. MasterB froze, then sprang, but my “NO!” made him hesitate just long enough for the chick to disappear between the shed and the wall. I grabbed MasterB, called him A Good Boy, and bundled him back indoors, offering extra biscuits as an incentive. He acquiesced, but it was only temporary.
Once he was inside the flat, I went out and had another look. Six little wren chicks balanced on an old palette turned on its side that MasterB could reach in an instant. The parents flying down to feed them insects every few minutes. A jay had spotted them too, so one of the adult wrens and I chased it off.
Come on wrens, I thought, get these babies to safety. I can’t stay out here all afternoon, and MasterB isn’t the only cat in the wood. If there had been an ornithological branch of social services I’d have been on the ‘phone in an instant.
MasterB accepted being gated with good grace. But he knew the birds were out there. He’s a cat. A natural born killer who I have always been grateful to witness is crap at catching birds. Grasshoppers, yes; even mice, and once a frog (rescued by me alive and returned to the wild); a vole I suspect was dead before he found it; bluebottles. He chases squirrels and butterflies, always without success. watching him hunt is usually enjoyable because he doesn’t catch anything. But these babies. Well, I don’t know how many of you know that seminal work by Anne Fine, Diary of a Killer Cat. I don’t seem to have a copy any more. But the Killer Cat in question, Tuffy, is less than amused when his humans cry over his latest victim, a bird that he claims almost fell into his mouth, in fact could have hurt him. These babies would have needed to be carrying boulders to hurt anyone, but catching would be the wrong verb to describe how easily another animal could have taken them.
I went out again and the coast was clear. I let Himself out and stayed in the garden for a while for good measure. MasterB checked out where he had seen the chicks and then hid in a shrub. Good, I thought. But my attention was caught by a lot of loud chirping. I followed the sound to find the six (shortly to become five) chirping around a flowerbed as though it was Glastonbury. Their parents appeared with insects and flew away again. I glanced back at MasterB, now in a different spot under another shrub. Hide babies, I urged them. Get in among the flowers where you can’t be seen. And shut up. You are just drawing attention to yourselves. Their lack of self-preservation instinct was alarming to put it mildly.
Suddenly there was a rush of ginger as MasterB realised his moment to be a mighty hunter had arrived. I fended him off and hoped the babies would scram before I caught him, but he made a rush past me and caught one. I got it away from him, but it was already dead. I carried him indoors. Freddy would have had my arm off, but MasterB was uncomplaining, if obviously a bit surprised. We played faether games, and he fell asleep. He wasn’t allowed out for a long time. But whether any of the fledglings have survived I very much doubt. The last time I looked, it was twilight and they were still on the ground in the open. I might be able to save them from MasterB, but not from the foxes, the various members of the crow family, and the other cats of the neighbourhood. I saw no sign of them today when I came home.
If anyone knows of parenting classes for wrens, please let me know.