Without meaning to, it turns out that I’ve rescued a bird from death by sparrow-hawk.
Walking out of the house this morning I disturbed the hawk which was at the near end of the garden at the foot of the side hedge, and immediately saw that a starling was having a go at the hawk: now that’s something you don’t see every day. Caught by surprise, the hawk flew away down along the edge of the hedgerow, closely followed by the starling; I could see it was carrying something. In an instant the hawk reached the bottom of the garden, did a tight turn along the back hedge and then wheeled out through the narrow gap where the gate is, and was gone. But it had dropped whatever it was carrying. I walked over to the spot and looked into the long grass; there was a young starling, lying still on its back with feet extended in the air and mouth wide open. It was developed enough to have feathers rather than downy fluff, but the wing and tail feathers were short so it wouldn’t have been capable of proper flight.
I picked up the bird and held it; it didn’t resist in the slightest, just lying on its back in my hand, perfectly still with its mouth wide open and claws sticking upright. It was breathing and still clearly alive. I held the bird and watched; I reckoned it was suffering from shock and shortage of breath. After a few minutes it seemed to grow calmer and its beak wasn’t so wide open. I began to examine it to see what damage had been done. Both wings appeared unbroken, but when I started checking one of its legs it clutched at my finger with surprising strength and did not want to let go.
This was a surprisingly heart-rending moment for me; I knew it was probably just trying to defend itself while regaining its breath, but it wasn’t struggling or protesting. It felt to me for all the world like when a newborn baby so endearingly clutches your finger with its tiny hand that exerts an astonishingly amount of strength and tenacity. It was one of those magic moments when you make a deep connexion with another of nature’s beings and it goes right to your core: a moment you will remember for the rest of your life. I was suddenly deeply in love with this little being. Maybe it was in love with me, who knows. The same thing happened when I managed to extricate my finger and test the other leg; but still the creature lay on its back and didn’t struggle. When I’d extricated that finger, the fledgling finally began to move; I placed it on the ground the right way up and it ran into the safety of the hedge bottom. The mother had watched the whole thing from a branch overhead; her feathers had been visibly damaged by the scrap with the sparrow-hawk, which – against all the odds – turned out the way she wanted.
Knowing that moments like this could happen at any time are a big part of why we do wildlife gardening.