Country mouse watches winter birds

We’re hunkering down for winter. The morning frosts leave a metallic taste in the mouth, and the evenings are filled with the whiff of wood smoke from our cosy fire. Outside, there may be the odd, newly arrived woodcock to be flushed from the leaf litter by badly behaved terriers, but the rest of the birds are the familiar home team-the robins, wagtails, tits, finches and blackbirds who battle out the winter with the rest of us.

When I was a boy, stalking hedgerows with my gun, I used to loathe the blackbirds who would fly off, sounding their alarm call and notifying the rabbits that I was approaching. Now, as a gardener, I love them for their songs, but particularly for their penchant for eating slugs. The latter have never had a better year witness the vast bare patches in many fields of winter crops-and the blackbird population has correspondingly increased. Hurrah!

We fête the robin at this time of year as if it didn’t exist at any other time, but for all its cute appearances on Christmas cards, it’s a very aggressive little bird and will fight a rival to its death to defend its territory. Nature’s answer to who killed Cock Robin is another robin.

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