In our garden, there's an ancient and buckled nest box attached to the wall outside the scullery window. It's behind a hydrangea bush and is currently overgrown with goosegogs (Sidebar: H says this stuff is actually called "cleavers", but that word is doomed in my vocabulary because when I came to Britain and first had it wrap around me like a sticky and overly friendly green lizard, she called it "goosegogs", which is apparently kid-ese for it. Whatever. Goosegogs is, like, way more cool a word. End of sidebar).
A couple of weeks back, a blue tit and a house sparrow duked it out for occupation of the box. The hydrangea bush shook with tiny ornithological rage as they dashed around making displays of birdly manhood. Eventually, the tit managed to make it in through the hole and poked its head out, blue crested war helmet perched so far forward on his itty-bitty skull you'd think he was trying to impale something. And indeed, as the sparrow came in for the final thrust, the tit parried him at the very doorstep of the disputed zone. Little black beak, nothing! That day it was a miniature bayonet of sparrow-terrifying proportions.
The blue tit won.
So today, we went out and H bought a sparrow nest box. In fact, it's an entire sparrow condominium, with three studio apartments. Tomorrow we'll put it up on the fence opposite the kitchen wall. And with any luck, the tiny bayonets will henceforth be sheathed in Le Jardin Xtin & Pluvialis.
The last time that H and I looked at nest boxes we were at our favourite garden centre just outside of town. It has a brilliant collection of resident parrots, including an African Grey that likes it when I whistle showtunes (especially Oklahoma!) and a truly mind-blowing collection of ornamental carp arranged in order of price, which means size, and at the end of the room there are carp which should only be found in the ponds of Zen monks who've tended them for six hundred years, chanting longevity songs and feeding them fragments of lotus dumpling. Yours for only 159.99. I love this garden centre. Anyway, we were wandering around and I was getting nostalgic for Australia from sniffing the leaves of greenhouse-grown citrus trees, and we came upon the display of nestboxes. Nestboxes for every possible need! But mostly, nestboxes for the little songbirds beloved of British gardeners. They were attached to cardboard sleeves letting you know what species would be best suited to each one.
One of them had a little sign stapled to the sleeve saying DISPLAY ONLY. NOT FOR SALE. I thought, good heavens! Why on earth would you need a display nestbox? It's not like they're shrinkwrapped or anything -- you can pick each one up and look inside it, and open its little hinged doors and check the craftsmanship or whatever you do before you buy a nestbox. It's not as if they suffer a great deal from shopsoiling, either, I mean, for heaven's sake, this display is outside!
cheep cheep cheep cheep
What was that?
cheep cheep cheep cheep
I looked at the display again. And I noticed that three of the boxes had the little signs stapled to them. It was because the blue tits had already found them. Right on this shelf, with the price tags still attached. And inside, the chicks were mistaking me for something that could fit through the golf-ball-sized opening with a beak full of tasty arthropods.