I watched in awe as two blackbirds set about a magpie in our back garden in Highbury Hill. Pecking and grabbing at its feathers, I was amazed at their ferocity and sorry for the magpie. My view was soon to change.

I’ve been observing the throngs of birds visiting our feeders, tiny garden pond and containers of water more than I used to, through a combination of ‘lockdown’ and new patio doors. From wrens, sparrows, blue tits and robins, through thrushes and blackbirds, to crows, magpies, blue jays and even the occasional woodpecker and sparrow hawk, they have established a literal pecking order of the seeds, fat pellets and dried worms on offer.

Bath time for sparrows. Keep a count!

The smaller birds enter the squirrel proof cages and hurl the food across the grass, a gift to the larger ones waiting in anticipation on the ground where there’s a literal pecking order.

Our tiny pond. Newts and frogs seem to be attracted to a fountain to rival Vegas!

The magpies, crows and pigeons get first picks, the rest waiting their chance of what’s missed. But there must be enough to go round as most of these birds seem to have built nests nearby, and we’ve already seen newly fledged robins and sparrows negotiating the feeders and bathing in our containers and pond.

Which brings me back to the altercation between the magpie and the blackbirds.

The squabble showed no sign of abating, with the magpie seemingly coming off worst.  Yet rather than escaping, it briefly touched down in the garden. Here, it stretched its neck and pulled from the undergrowth a tiny, helpless blackbird chick, pink mouth wide open in expectation of being fed. What happened next was a brief blur of feathers and squawking – then all the combatants flew away. But what of the chick? I went to investigate. No sign. Just a few small feathers. Had it escaped or had the magpie taken it? I fear the latter.

I was set up to take a picture of magpies and blackbirds, but this little fellow arrived to ruin it!

So my view of battered magpie changed from victim to offender. Yet, in retrospect, maybe there are hungry magpie chicks that needed something more substantial than slim pickings of seeds dropped by the sparrows. It’s nature’s way. But the possible loss of a blackbird chick is so disheartening.

Next day, they were all back in the garden, sparrows, blue tits, robin, blackbirds, magpie, following the same feeding routines – until, that is, they were all interrupted by the arrival first of a squirrel, then cats.

It’s tough being a bird.

PS – since I’ve written this, I’ve noticed a blackbird devouring a newt from the pond. The circle of life and death . . . . !

Richard Smith’s novel, Homeward Bound, is available as an ebook and paperback from Amazon and bookshops like Ink@84 and Waterstones

Author: Richard Smith

I'm a writer and storyteller and for much if my life produced sponsored films and commercials. Subjects were as varied as bananas in Cameroon, oil from the North Sea, fighting organised crime and caring for older people. Their aim was always to make a positive difference, but, worryingly, two commercials I worked on featured in a British Library exhibition, ‘Propaganda’.


  1. I had a fountain like that, once. Had to get rid of it due to the howls of mirth from the neighbours. Bastards.
    Still, I agree. Nature continues to amaze when you take the time to stop and take it in. It’s the bluetits that annoy me – casting seeds asunder with gay abandon from the feeder until they reach the one they fancy. I’ve spoken to them several times about this but they remain recalcitrant… Bastards.


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