This great spotted woodpecker was a regular visitor to our peanut feeder this spring. He came on his own for a few weeks several times a day, and then for just a few days with two of his young. I had never even seen this species of woodpecker before and here it is feeding in my garden and squawking to tell us all to come look.
It is difficult to comprehend that many of our garden birds are rapidly declining in population. Statistics say this is so, but here in our village many varieties are to be seen, and to be honest, since I started paying attention to them over the past few years, I have come to see far more of them than I ever did before.
There are pigeons and blackbirds nesting in the old sycamore tree. Blue-tits, great-tits, long-tailed tits, greenfinches and bullfinches play in the apple trees. A pair of collared doves huddle together on the fence panels now and again. Hundreds of swifts nest in barns all over the village and chase each other around the telegraph wires. There’s always a robin or three hopping about. Sparrows nest in the hedges and chimneys, along with the jackdaws and crows. I’ve seen green woodpeckers, the occasional shy jay, magpies, owls, herons, and pheasants. Wrens nested in our garden box this year, like the thrushes, they hop about the lawn and scrabble amongst the shrubbery. And I’ve always loved to watch the buzzards circling high overhead, surfing the air currents on clear summer days.
One of my neighbours, a 76 year-old man called Tony who has lived here all his life, tells me that there are far fewer birds around here than in his younger days. He tells me stories of cuckoos and larks neither of which I’ve ever seen.
I think it is difficult to comprehend the situation due to the time it takes – the numbers are declining slowly and steadily year upon year so that it takes a whole generation before there is a noticeable change, and by then younger generations don’t know any different.
Its hard to miss what you never knew.
And people who do care can’t do much about it can they? Tony couldn’t do anything about the disappearance of the cuckoos and skylarks – he seems sad, a little angry, but resigned. Is that all we can hope for – resignation to the fact that we are going to lose many species? It all feels a part of something that is too big to understand, an idea too vast to grab hold of. Too impossible a problem to solve. And for so many of us it’s all we can do to get through the day without collapsing ourselves… we have enough troubles of our own. Until we solve our own problems we are not going to have time or heart enough for the birds.
Only then, for many species, perhaps it will be too late.