An Alpaca and some Blackbirds

As summer tries to make its way into our lives (stupid British weather), the wildlife of our country starts to get busy. Food sources are abundant, so we don’t see so many animals foraging or hunting in visible places, and the birds are raising broods of chicks, usually as well hidden as possible. There are a few notable exceptions to this trend though, and I encountered one this week.

I was called out to see an alpaca which had trouble giving birth. She was clearly feeling pretty sick, so I spent a fair bit of time examining her and treating her, and I did all of this in the shelter which the alpacas have in their field.

Truffle, the sick alpaca in a corner of the shelter

Truffle, the sick alpaca in a corner of the shelter

I was concentrating on the job in hand, so at first I didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary – nice warm day, plenty of birdsong in the background, other alpacas looking at me and wondering if I was interesting.

Alpaca - "Well? Are you interesting?"

Alpaca – “Well? Are you interesting?”

Male alpaca

Male alpaca

As I continued, one noise started to intrude on my concentration – a very loud, insistent, angry sounding blackbird. Making small-talk, I said to the farmer “Listen to that – he’s definitely upset about something!” and she replied, “Yes, they want to get in and feed the chicks, but they won’t come in while we’re here.”

This threw me completely. I stopped examining the alpaca and looked up. There was a nest in this shelter? This tiny shelter where people came twice a day to check on the alpacas? I looked around, and, sure enough, there was the nest. On top of the medicine cabinet, in a box of latex gloves.

Blackbird nest in box of gloves!

Blackbird nest in box of gloves!

How on earth had I missed that? On further questioning, the farmer revealed that they nest there every year. Blackbirds breed from March to August, raising 2-3 broods in that time (sometimes 4 in a good year!), and this pair spent the whole nesting season in the alpaca shelter, on the farmer’s box of gloves. “It’s such a pain, every year I forget that nesting season’s coming until it’s too late, and then I can’t get to my gloves for the whole summer!” she told me. Somehow I don’t think they bothered her too much though, as she went on to tell me how they had built the shelf outwards to stop the cats climbing up, and chased away the magpies and the jackdaws whenever they saw them.

We finished with the alpaca, and walking back to the car I asked if they would mind if I took some photos. They were more than happy, and left me to it (they had work to do – as did I, but 5 minutes won’t hurt, right?). I hid myself behind a water trough and waited. Contrary to what usually happens when you’re staking out wildlife, I didn’t have to wait long before the parents came back to the nest. The fledglings launched themselves upwards, fighting for the caterpillars the parents had brought.

Blackbird chicks reaching up for food

Blackbird chicks reaching up for food

I watched the parents go to and fro five or six times, then decided I’d better leave them be and get on with some work. Clearly the fighting for food was an exhausting process – when I left this little chap seemed to be settling down for a nap!

Napping blackbird chick!

Napping blackbird chick!