Hawks and Doves

The battle of the birds

I returned to Britain from a holiday in Israel in July with hawks and doves on my mind. The latest Gaza conflict erupted while we were there and was still going on when we left, with the hawks in the ascendancy on both sides.

When we got back to our North London flat, we found the same battle going on — literally. A creature with a peculiar screech appeared to have taken up residence in the huge tree that lies just the other side of the fence at the end of our garden. After a day or two a bird of prey emerged from the tree, and headed off towards Hampstead Heath. It soon transpired that it was not alone: there were four of them, and my inquiries of a couple of bird-watching experts led to the conclusion that they were a family of sparrowhawks, an adult male and female and their two offspring (the screechers).

Over the next few weeks we were treated to some wonderful sights as the young birds emerged from the nest and gradually learnt the art of flying — and presumably killing some of the small birds which I had previously attracted to our garden with a couple of bird feeders. Now they made themselves scarce, as did the pair of fat pigeons who had hitherto been regular visitors (I even found one in the kitchen once, when I left open the door). So the hawks were on top in London too.

One of the youngsters flew into a neighbour’s window, and staggered off dazed but presumably wiser. Above our heads one afternoon, one of the adults dropped a piece of food (perhaps one of the garden blue tits) which was snatched out of the air by a youngster flying beneath — a thrilling spectacle.

We went off for another short break. When we got back the garden was silent. The sparrowhawks had departed, who knows where, and the pigeons were back, strutting around the lawn as if they owned the place. The doves were back in charge. In Israel and Gaza too, the hawks have retreated, for the moment at least.

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