25th January 2011
Following two weeks of pleasant, spring-like weather, the winter rain has returned and seems to be set in for a while to come. At the moment it is raining hard and water is cascading from the roof in waterfalls, having run in streams down each of the channels created by the curved terracotta roof tiles. Most houses in this part of Spain are not fitted with guttering as those in the UK are, which we found strange to begin with, but having experienced 7 winters here now and realised just how heavy the downpours are, it is now clear that it’s because it just wouldn’t work.
Confined to the house for most of the weekend, and with very little bird activity to watch in the garden and thereabouts, I’ve had a look back through my photographs and journals to see what was happening at this time in previous years for some reminders and inspiration for this piece of writing. It was interesting to see the similarities and differences in levels of activity amongst the birds that I see regularly in the garden and how the weather affects their behaviour too, but I was particularly drawn to a set of pictures I took of a pair of fighting Blackbird males; so Blackbirds it is.
Blackbirds are very numerous hereabouts, thanks no doubt to year-round access to plenty of well-watered lawns, berried shrubs and trees and safe places to build their nests. We have had a pair nesting in our garden each year we’ve lived here so far, most years successfully raising a family of three, and a few times managing two broods. This breeding success, repeated throughout the area, often results in a local population explosion, which come the onset of the next breeding season means there’s a lot of competition for the best territories.
At this time of year I have seen as many as six males in the garden at any one time demonstrating the familiar challenging routine that generally involves a lot of following and retaliatory chasing between two or sometimes more birds, with one usually succeeding in sending the rest packing, often protesting loudly as they retreat over a wall or hedge.
The fight, though, (25th January 2008), took the competition to a whole new level that I had never witnessed before or since. The duelling began in pretty much the same way as usual, with one of the birds shadowing the other as it ran between shrubs or along the corridor between the hedge and the wall, then the one being followed would turn and lunge at its follower and chase it purposefully, attempting to intimidate it into leaving. This behaviour went on for days, with each challenge lasting for quite some time, which must have been very tiring for the birds. The contenders must have been very equally matched and more determined tactics called for, and chases began to be more aggressive, with the birds flying up at one another, bill to bill until one departed. This happened over several mornings, but the incidents were so brief, or in an awkward place that I failed to get anything on camera. Then one day one of them must have decided that enough was enough and that there would be no more Mr. Nice Bird, as the following pictures show……….
Despite the apparent ferocity of the attack, I don’t think either bird was seriously hurt, but I have no idea which one emerged as the victor either.
Later in the year a pair of Blackbirds nested in a fork of the branches of our big yucca tree.