Country mouse: The fate of the birds

An enormous flock of black rooks heads west, thousands of birds filling the sky. My neighbour gasps at the relentless movement. A tsunami of corvids. It feels prophetic, every black dot moving with a common purpose. The saying should be as the rook flies, not the crow. An avian army on a mission as winter begins in earnest.

Elsewhere, at this time of year, murmurations of starlings sweep across the sky as the sun sinks, creating dazzling waves as the individuals mould together to become one giant pulsating flock.

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Out shooting, large numbers of woodcock rise in front of the beaters’ dogs, having abandoned the freezing lands to the east of Britain. They arrived during November’s full moon, returning to the same spot they’d left the previous spring. As winter deepens, life becomes infinitely more challenging for all wild birds. How they cope will be a matter of life and death. Territory is everything. Even the robin, the most cherished of our winter birds, will kill a rival over a land dispute.

It’s a wonder that any of our birds survive our winters, but this year, they start with an advantage as the hedges and woods are laden with fruit, berries and seedheads. How long that lasts will depend on the weather.

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