Birdie Turf War

Here we are, with less than two weeks left in the school year, and I can hardly believe it. I can hardly believe that 2016 is half over, I can hardly believe that, after seven years of Stampede Breakfasts at the school, last week’s was my second-to-last one, I can hardly believe that as of next Friday I will have kids at two different schools, I can just hardly believe the flight of time. I understand, now, how older relatives would never remember my age or grade when I was a kid, or would say things like “You’ve grown!” in a shocked way, because it’s really shocking, it is, how fast things go.

As I said, last week was the annual Stampede Breakfast, and it’s Mark’s last one. I compared a photo of the boys with one from their first breakfast, when they were in kindergarten and pre-K, and Landslide. That, coupled with the boys attending the city-wide Patrol Picnic, had me feeling very Sunrise, Sunset. 

The end of the school year always feels so poignant, doesn’t it? And I love summer, I love the fairly unstructured days and spending extra time with the boys – before they don’t want to anymore! –  but, of course, it comes with its own challenges too.

Speaking of challenges, there is something going on in my backyard. It’s like a gang war, or something, but with birds.

We have a number of large trees and big shrubs, and during the winter my spirea is always full of dozens of little chickadees. Unfortunately, every time I pass by the shrub to take out the garbage or recycling, they panic and fly away as a group, which gives me heart palpitations. A hundred little birds scattering loudly the second you pass by has that effect. Generally, by the time I’ve actually put the recycling in the bin, they have settled back down in the shrub. I pass by on the way back to the house and the scattering happens all over again.

Those little chickadees disappear in the spring, and happily enough, the robins take over. They’re so cute, hopping and flying around the yard, and I’m always happy to see them. There are a number of them usually, but last week I noticed that there were none hanging out in the yard. Instead, about fifty magpies had taken their place. They must have nested in one of our trees, because there were magpies on the lawn, on the fence, on the deck, on the garage roof, all screaming their scream-like chirps, from before sunrise to late evening. I’d watch from the kitchen window as two magpies sat on the garage and another dive bombed them, beak open, screaming all the time. They would chase each other and gang up on each other, and I wondered if there was some kind of turf war going on. It was like the Jets and the Sharks, but with fewer switchblades and more flying.

It was kind of unnerving, all these birds fighting each other for days.

Then I was headed out on an errand, and in my alley were two giant crows. Now, I am kind of terrified of crows, because a) they are huge, b) they are very smart, and c) I have seen The Birds. Who wants their eyes pecked out? Not me.

Anyway, these crows were dive bombing something in the alley. I looked and gasped. That “something” was a robin. People, that robin DIED right before my very eyes. The crows swooped and swooped, and the robin went from hopping to wing-twitching to dead, in less than a minute. Then the crows flew away, leaving me to wonder why. Why did they kill the robin, if they weren’t even going to eat it? My husband had the grisly suggestion that it was a warning to the other robins. Don’t mess with the crows.

And now his watch has ended.

Fortunately/ unfortunately by the time I returned from my errand, the robin’s little body was gone. Either some of the neighbourhood wildlife had a feast, or one of my neighbours saw it and cleaned it up; if I was a betting woman I would put my money on the former.

I was a bit nervous on a whole other level, though, because I thought if the crows could gang up on a robin, they could certainly take on the magpies. Then, theoretically, my yard could be rid of the magpies but filled with crows. I wasn’t loving the magpie gang warfare, but at least I could be fairly confident that I wouldn’t be pecked to death by them. If fifty CROWS decided my yard was the place to be, I think I would never leave my house again.

As suddenly as all this birdie drama started, it stopped. Suddenly, there are no magpies in the yard, nor any crows in the alley. A couple little robins are hopping around in the yard, and splashing in my neighbour’s bird bath. I put the sprinkler on the trees and garden, and was heartened by the sight of several robins enjoying the spray. I don’t know how this happened, but I am not asking questions. Maybe the crows WERE putting out a warning, but not to other robins; maybe it was a you’re next signal to the magpies.

A friend (HI STEPHANIE) told me that in the Buddhist faith crows are considered to be protectors. Maybe, in a bizarrely violent way, they were protecting the robins from the magpies, who, as we all know, are the assholes of the bird world. Perhaps I should make my peace with the crows. So long as they don’t peck my eyes out, they can hang out on my fence, or “Castle Black,” as I’m calling it.


  1. “And now his watch has ended.” This was the moment when I guffawed, alone, in my office. Once again my co-workers think I’m losing it…

  2. Poor Robin Snow. He knew nothing. But the fact those murdering black hearts have gone and the robins are back proves that The Lord of Light is real! I love that you call coal tits chickadees!
    By the way, now your boy is going to big school he’ll be grown up in a minute. You think primary school went fast? NOTHING on high school. Sorry, but you need to prepare yourself!

  3. We had crows do the same to a nest of baby robins in one of our trees last year. It was heartbreaking.

  4. I’m glad things have calmed down in your yard. That does sound disturbing.

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