The hedgerows and skies at our end of the village are awash with young house martins and sparrows, newly fledged. When I went out for a walk yesterday evening I disturbed a whole gaggle of them feasting on the evening midges, and they eddied up around me in a twittering swirl of beating wings.
All the houses round about are hosts to house martin nests. We are torn between pleasure at living at such close quarters with these remarkable birds, and irritation at the noise and mess they make. They are far from tidy neighbours! There is a nest above Julie’s window, waking her in the early mornings. These birds have still not fledged, and we watch the tiny heads poking above their basket, wedged precariously under the eaves, waiting to be fed by their exhausted parents.
The other day I watched a nest on a neighbour’s house fledging all at once. Most of them were out within a matter of seconds, but there was one that did not fly out with the rest, clinging on to the wall for more than half an hour. It was tempting to imagine that what was going through its mind was (in bird speak): “Oh s**t, oh s**t, oh s**t!” The ground must have seemed a very long way down. Perhaps it had more imagination than the rest. Finally it pushed itself off the wall and within seconds was indistinguishable from its siblings, boomeranging around the close. All adults watching, humans included, breathed a sigh of relief.
I wonder whether the young birds start feeding themselves as soon as they fledge. Do they just barrel through clouds of insects with open mouths? Do they come back to the nest for a while (I could see they were trying, but failing, to master how to land and squeeze themselves back into that narrow entrance)? Do they have to roost straight away, spending that first night in an alien world, uncomfortable, cold and homesick?
Julie’s leg is slowly healing where she cut it, and she has not attempted anything else. We are all holding our breath to see how she handles sixth form in a few weeks. To see if she is able to fly or clings to the wall.