little sparrow


A shadow explodes through our garden. A shriek of feathers and noise; and I get a sense of what Robert Macfarlane must have been talking about in The Wild Places. The flaring shape is felt in the heart before the eye, too fast for the brain to make sense of, but an animal instinct makes me duck all the same. For all of the smaller creatures there are really only two defences against aerial predators: run or hide, and for our resident community of house sparrows here in our garden their only option now is to run. What follows is a short-lived but ferocious aerial chase, jet-fighter manoeuvres. Both the Sparrowhawk and the sparrows have short bodies and fatter, fan-like wings than say, the Buzzards or Kites. Neither can glide or gracefully soar like their bigger counterparts, because their wings are both designed for the jigsaw-sharp turns and narrow avenues of low-level terrain.

The exchange is all over in an instant, the sparrow escapes, the hawk vanishes. They call it a ‘flash of the eye’ but it feels more like the thudduduhr of heart-hammer, somehow pre-vision and instinctive. The sparrowhawk that has been piercing our tiny garden is gone, leaving the shattered remains of the small, ornamental paint-your-own bird-table on the floor, seed everywhere. It takes three wire pins and a modded piece of scrap wood to put the table back together again, and now it is hanging once more from it’s hook as if nothing had ever happened. The usually chattering sparrows are silent for a stall but return, wary, to the table. It is early summer, and I guess that neither sparrow nor hawk can afford to be gone long as both are flying ragged to feed hungry chicks.

The Language of Sparrows