The Habituated Blue Tit

One thing that has always struck me about wildlife on farms is how habituated it is to humans and machinery. Perhaps it is because people on a farm have a job to do, and are not paying the wildlife any particular attention – animals seem to have an uncanny ability to tell when you are just walking past and when you are actually focusing on them (it doesn’t seem to matter how nonchalant I act, how much I pretend to be fascinated by a nearby hedge, they always know when I want to photograph them and disappear accordingly). But wild things on farms don’t seem to mind us that much.

I experienced an especially enjoyable example of this at a TB test this week. It was a small test, only forty or so cattle, on some land at the back of a village near a railway line. Right from the start, there were birds singing in the brambles and trees around me, and one particularly persistent and penetrating call caught my attention. “Tsee tsee chit.” A lull while the farmer fetched more cattle, and I started searching for the source. “Tsee tsee chit.” It was seriously loud, it had to be close, but I scanned the trees in vain. “Tsee tsee chit.” Suddenly there he was, right where he had been the whole time: a fledgling blue tit, on a bar in the lean-to just next to me. I couldn’t believe it, this little bird was perched all of 2 feet from my face, seemingly unconcerned. I even managed to take a few photos with my phone (that tells you just how close he was – the photos aren’t great, but neither is my phone camera!).

Fledgling Blue Tit

Fledgling Blue Tit

Fledgling Blue Tit (even closer!)

Fledgling Blue Tit (even closer!)

I told the farmer, who came round to have a good look, and then we carried on with the TB test. Things then took a turn for the dramatic. I turned to have another look at the fledgling and watched in horror as he fluttered down between the cattle crush and the wall of the barn (for those who don’t know, a cattle crush is essentially a big metal cage for holding cattle in to examine them. It is extremely heavy and wobbles a lot when a cow gets in it). Obviously we had to stop testing to rescue him, and here ensued a farcical chase. I stepped into the crush to reach over and move him, he flew just out of reach. I went to the front of the crush, he moved to the back. I bent down to pick him up, he flew out of my hands and into my hair. The farmer meanwhile is giggling uncontrollably at the sight of his vet pursuing (and being evaded by) a blue tit. Just as I finally shoo him towards the opposite hedgerow, he jinks sideways and in between the hind legs of a cow. She’s a cranky one and there’s no way I’m sticking my head down there to grab him, but he was so close to being squashed I almost had to look away. Finally, he makes it to the hedge and we both breathe a sigh of relief. A few more cows and the TB test was over, but we were both so drained by our encounter with the habituated wildlife we had to go and have a sit down and a nice cup of tea to recover!