Monday 16 September 2019

Country Matters: 'Odd couples bond in a garden of life'

OLD PALS: The dog and duck
OLD PALS: The dog and duck

Joe Kennedy

The collared dove (Streptopelia decaocto), which gets its name from the black half-collar at the back of its head, is the country's only small resident dove. And although it arrived only in the late 1950s from Turkey and the Balkans, it has become widespread. There are an estimated 40,000 breeding pairs now - and they work at it around the clock, raising about four broods a year.

The bird can appear quite tame. It looks like a small grey pigeon, is a fast flier and is often seen perched on overhead wires.

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I have watched this fearan baicdhubh meeting a young magpie (Pica pica) in the mornings. The magpie is also a migrant species, arriving from Wales in a storm as far back as 1676. These young birds, perhaps feeling they are two of a kind, appear to seek each other's company and greet each other with calls. The dove seems lonely and emotive, the magpie also carries some plaintiveness.

Perhaps both still seek parents to feed them, though they are capable of fending for themselves. It is a curious bonding.

The garden bird table is the refectory of blue tits, finches, the occasional blackbird and of course captain robin, among which the dove mingles easily. The small birds clear off when the magpie appears - noisy and restless as always. It may be cynical to consider the magpie's reputation as an adult bird but it is better to consider this lonely pair drawn together for companionship on their journey to maturity and different lives.

Many stories of bird and animal friendships have been chronicled. I have written here of a cat I once had, which thought it was a dog. When a spaniel's pups were weaned, a kitten turned up and found comfort as the spaniel began grooming it and taking it to her breast. She had found a new pup to replace her lost ones, the kitten a warm sleeping place. A visiting vet neighbour was intrigued! The pair bonded and as the cat matured it tried valiantly to keep up with the dog's bounding about in fields but usually ended up mewing piteously and needing carrying.

In Bangladesh, a pet monkey took a puppy in her arms and would not let it go; in Antwerp Zoo a llama followed ponies and donkeys - and did not recognise a female llama brought to breed. In India a troop of wild monkeys brought traffic to a halt when a baby monkey was hit by a car, which they surrounded in an angry mood before carrying the injured monkey away.

The famous naturalist W H Hudson told of a swan following a trout moving beneath a pond for long periods. When the fish was hooked by an angler, the swan followed it on the line and as the fisherman drew it to the net the bird rose and attacked him "with the greatest fury".

There was also a carp which daily surfaced at the edge of a pond to greet a golden retriever on its walk through a park. The fish nibbled at the dog's paws.

I liked the story of the lone domestic hen that perched above cows at night and travelled with them to and from grazing paying scant attention to the rest of the farm poultry.

This story is not from West Cork I assure you, though wild birds have sought shelter among the cows there from time to time during hard weather.

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