Kitchen Birdwatcher: The Magpies’ Nest

The Kitchen Birdwatcher’s essential kit

I live in west London, right under the Heathrow flightpath, and my flat backs on to a fairly busy railway line that sometimes sees traffic at all hours of the day and night. Noisy, yes, but still a great place to live because (and this may surprise some people) of all the wildlife in the area. There is a perhaps surprising amount of green space nearby, creating perfect habitats for numerous creatures – you’ll find a small park and various allotments (some in use, some derelict) within a block or so of my flat, and the railway line itself is flanked by trees and other greenery.

In the last couple of weeks alone, I have encountered cheeky squirrels, embarrassed foxes, and all kinds of noisy bird life in my neighbourhood. I’ve even seen a kestrel round here once or twice – that really was an unusual and magical experience. I’ve also seen unexpected bats at QPR’s Loftus Road stadium in Shepherd’s Bush, but that’s another story!

I can birdwatch from my desk (I’m actually watching some very cute little pied wagtails hopping around in the trees as I write this), and also from my kitchen window – which makes doing the washing up a much more enjoyable chore! I keep my essential kit of binoculars and a bird identification book on the kitchen counter in case I spot anything interesting while I’m doing the dishes. And it was indeed while washing up one day recently that I first noticed the magpie nest in one of the bare, wintery trees on the other side of the railway line.

View across the railway line – the nest can clearly been seen on the right hand side of the tree in the centre of the photo

The nest was still under construction at the time, and at first I wondered what it was – until I saw a pair of magpies flying in and out, beaks full of twigs and other nest-building materials. The magpies themselves look like they’re fairly young, and I suspect this might be their first nest – although they have done a great job on it! So, since then, I’ve been keeping an eye on things when I can, and I’m becoming more and more fascinated by this little family to be.

Closer view of the nest – in the centre of the photo

Having observed them for several weeks now, I reckon this pair of magpies are going to make great parents. My favourite example of this happened one afternoon, as I watched as the two of them defended their tree from a squirrel, taking it in turns to dive at the cheeky creature until they had it cornered at one end of a branch. The trespassing squirrel and the male magpie stared each other out for a while, waiting to see who would be the first to blink. It turned out to be the squirrel, who eventually sloped off like a sulky teenager who’d meant to do that all along: “I didn’t want to be in this tree anyway, it’s a booooring tree…”

Magpies aren’t always the most popular of birds, but you can probably tell that I’ve become quite attached to this pair, and really hope their nest is a success. Of course, I’m very much hoping to catch a glimpse of any chicks, and I will update you with all the details if I do. Meanwhile, I’ll continue to watch as I wash up, binoculars at the ready…

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