Is this the 'darkling thrush'?
This morning I opened the bedroom window at dawn, and I heard a little song. Not the full-blown song of springtime, that would be too much to ask. Not the sharp call, either, of birds warning others to keep away. This was a little plaintive noise, but it was certainly a song.
The sky was calm and cold with yellow and pink below dark blue. The sun was struggling to rise and had only managed an inch above the horizon. There wasn’t much light yet, but there was just enough to see the outline of a bird on a high perch in the black branches of the ash tree.
The bird is in silhouette. I can’t make out the details, but I know him by his song. It is a thrush, not yet fully repeating its song ‘twice over’ as he does in the spring. Today he has only two notes and I think he could be singing ‘New Year’, bravely piping in 2020 for all he is worth.
The thrush is on the RSPB famous red list and you don’t see them much today. There is a pair here though, in our garden in the spring and summer. They make a nest lined with mud and lay four sky blue, bright blue, eggs. I always see the fledglings on the summer lawn begging for food.
My father once told me a story of his childhood when thrushes were as common as blackbirds and made nests in the hedges up and down their lane. His sister, Evie, wanted a thrush as a pet and took one out of a nest (don’t do this!). She so very much wanted to look after it and tame it and make it her very own.
Her Victorian father remonstrated with her and said that she could only keep it if she fed it every day, without fail. Of course, Evie promised to do this, but if you have children and you have ever bought them a pet you will know what happened.
One day Evie went to school and forgot to feed her baby thrush – her mother fed it instead. Evie’s father was angry, and he said that she had to take the thrush back to the nest. And so, she had to do what he asked. The nest was empty, the other baby birds had fledged. But her father had to be obeyed and the young thrush had to be left alone in the nest. It would surely die; its parents were long gone, looking after their other scattered young.
I never really understood why Evie had to take the thrush back, but her father must have had his reasons.
And now my thrush sings his plaintive song in the middle of winter, perhaps, as Thomas Hardy wrote in his poem The Darkling Thrush, to tell us of ‘Some blessed hope, whereof he knew. And I was unaware’.