Bird-man swallows human

David Craig

  • The Most Perfect Thing: Inside (and outside) a Bird’s Egg by Tim Birkhead
    Bloomsbury, 288 pp, £16.99, April 2016, ISBN 978 1 4088 5125 8

We still live among wild animals, just about: the birds that flit and scurry and sing and build in our gardens. They are like iridescent spray: the rose-flush on the breast of a male chaffinch, the gold ring round the eye of a blackbird, the jet-black cap above the slatey body of a great tit. Sparrows are said to have become much less common, but 31 of them have frequented my garden in the past seven days, to say nothing of blackbirds, collared doves, coal tits, starlings, chaffinches, a song thrush, a dunnock, a woodpigeon and a great tit, and that during a typical spring week in a village of 630 households on a detrunked A-road, half a mile from a motorway and a little more from the Glasgow-Euston railway line. A few weeks ago in a nearby wood I saw two buzzards flapping at each other on the ground in a fierce kerfuffle. I’ve heard the click of beaks as two swifts met – kissed? – in midair overhead. A few years ago my wife called out in alarm: a swift had crashed to the ground just outside the back door, struck down by a sparrowhawk: it gave one gasp and died, and I buried it at the end of the garden. Encounters with birds have enriched my life, whether it was the golden eagle spiralling silently upwards a few yards below me in a corrie of Beinn Alligin in Torridon, or a woodcock zigzagging through a deserted orchard two hundred yards east of my Cumbrian home, or a kestrel darting in and out of a Yorkshire cliff as it hunted the nestlings of the martins’ autumn broods and feathers spattered down around my feet.

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