Country diary: a pair of blackbirds has moved in by the kitchen window

Sandy, Bedfordshire: I have a sink-side view of the nest, and for the next few months we will be tenement-close neighbours

A female blackbird gathers nesting material.
A female blackbird gathers nesting material. Photograph: Toby Houlton/Alamy
A female blackbird gathers nesting material. Photograph: Toby Houlton/Alamy
Wed 14 Apr 2021 00.30 EDT

An underemployed male blackbird is perched at the top of the hedge, not singing, not feeding, not pecking the hell out of another male. Just watching. Down in the garden below, his mate is working her beak off.

Caution is a winter word to her, such is the strength of her spring instinct to make a nest. She might be only a pounce away from a cat’s claws, or a second from a sparrowhawk’s talons, but all prudence and wariness seem to have deserted her as she hammers into the mossy bank of the pond with woodpecker singlemindedness.

Sometimes she raises her head bearing a limp handlebar moustache of moss, at others she fishes out a globule of dirt the size of her head. Or she will be plucking at straws from the grass or the shrubbery until she has gathered a bundle. She has been sifting, gathering and ferrying back to her nest for four days without any discernible selection pattern. A mud pack here, a stash of hay there.

Gone is the habitual “scold and flee” response to the approach of a human. When I pass close by, she looks up at me with a face full of thatch and does not budge. We are trying to get her used to us moving about freely, because she has chosen to nest in a bay bush not three metres from our kitchen window. For the next few months we will be tenement-close neighbours.

Inside the house, I have a sink-side view into the nest, a side-on arrow-slit gap through foliage that is evergreen but not wholly impervious. I’ve noticed that in her repeated dives into the bush she uses a separate entrance and exit, perhaps so that the route to her nest will be less frayed and visible from outside.

She settles into the hollow, flicks her latest load against the side and then the plastering begins. She presses the curve of her breast against the loose material, working it hard and smooth, a body-contoured cup, shaped to her own shape. The male sits on in the hedge, waiting for her to finish, lay her eggs, and incubate. And then his work really will begin.

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