| A broody sparrow meets his match|
|Grisly little offerings began turning up on our back patio this week. One morning, my wife stepped outside and trod on a dead nestling. The next day, a hazelnut-sized egg appeared in the same place, lightly speckled and intact but for a crumpled top, as if someone had tapped it with a teaspoon. It was clear that in the nestbox immediately above, a sparrow was conducting a house clearance; it seemed the male was ready for the third brood of the summer. For several hours every day, he sat with toes clamped to the gutter, cheeping lustily. Since sparrows are faithful to sites rather than mates, it was likely he was offering his accommodation to any passing female.|
He got a male instead: an identical bird with, it soon appeared, near-identical capability. Fights began: first, a vigorous attempt at outcheeping, but the shouting hostilities soon turned into a chase. The branches of the hazel and buddleia bushes shook as one raced for the other's tail, and wings whirred and thrummed, making a sound like a small fan. Then the two birds clashed, claws raking, beaks jabbing, bodies interlocked, so that with each encounter a mass of flightless sparrow tumbled to the ground. Fights broke up, with the territorial male shooting up to the nestbox and flying in without breaking speed. Each time, his close pursuer balked at going after him into the black hole and veered up and over the roof. After a while, the home bird would pop out of the darkness and fly to the top of a nearby tree and start chirping defiance. Then the whole alarming business would begin again.
The two birds fought in fits and furious starts all through that energy-sapping, baking day. More than once, they dropped close to my feet. I was not the only observer. Once, when they shot past my shoulder, I spotted a sparrowhawk drifting over the next garden. Flap, flap, glide … flap, flap, glide. During these confrontations the little sparrows must have been such easy prey, their instincts for self-preservation completely overwhelmed by an all-consuming territorial imperative.