Two bird tales


On Thursday I went to Leighton Moss and spent most of my time trying to spot the ever-present but invisible reed warblers. I was also entertained by a pheasant duel in the undergrowth, their feinting movements as choreographed as eighteenth-century gentlemen’s. A female pheasant – perhaps the subject of their quarrel – was close by.

On the way home I saw a much less entertaining sight: a cygnet killed by a pair of aggressive dogs. For a dreadful moment I thought the whole brood – resting in the field beside the canal with both parents – would be killed. In the end one of the parents drew the most vicious dog away and was attacked and chased in the water. Fortunately it survived, and the family – now eight cygnets rather than nine – are still sailing up and down the canal. The irresponsible dog-owner – she was walking four of the brutes – got a great deal of abuse, most of it from a pair of canalside drinkers who were perhaps making the most of the novelty of not being the prime target of moral outrage. Their lack of inhibition in berating her (and pushing her into the canal to control her dog – oh, how naughty!) reflected the hostility and horror of the politer onlookers.

I think the most shocking aspect was the speed with which the dogs set on the cygnets. There seemed to be no sizing-up, no calculation – just straight for the kill. None of the squaring up of the evenly matched male pheasants.

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