Country Matters: Theft will be punished by tower justice
A person regularly scatters wheat flour for feral pigeons on a sidewalk near a busy bus stop. He is greedily flouted. Nearby, masons work on a rising structure protected by a wooden and plastic protective apron. Hungry birds will continue to eat undisturbed.
Occasionally, a passerby shakes the remains of the wrapper from a fish and chips supper.
This brings, from no visible source, several herring gulls catching and gulping down tastes and smells of their seaside origins. Any trace of food disappears quickly. There is nothing left for the sparrows. But these days there are no sparrows. There is the occasional tower, crow or jackdaw stroller. Magpies dare not walk here.
I saw a tower jump around a piece of blackened rubbish ignored or unseen by eagle-eyed gulls, a leftover wrapper from a take-out snack dropped by one of the college students next to.
It was dirty and looked like a piece of hardened plaster from the construction site.
The tower looked at him casually, turning his head from side to side, pricking him, considering his possibility like a meal. He picked it up to test the concrete-like texture and dropped it, then took a firmer grip, waddled over to a rainwater source in the road gutter and dumped it. deposited to soak and soften it.
The tower kept an eye on the prize as it soaked up the moisture and pricked it several times to test the texture before making a culinary decision. It then flew away, the crust firmly clutched in the beak, for a peaceful snack on a building or park tree.
Towers are intelligent creatures and are quite ruthless in their social behavior.
There are about half a million or so actively flying this month to collect twigs, build nests or renovate the tops of old trees such as Scots pine, ash and oak – elms are less popular. Sometimes two birds carry a single twig or other nesting material.
Rookeries are densely populated, full of noise and bustle as the birds return in the evening, usually in straight line flight, from wherever they may have searched for earthworms, leather jackets, beetles, grains, berries and roots – not to mention the seeds of newly planted potatoes which can be ravaged in massive dawn raids.
They benefit from sedentary conditions and a mature park. An average rookery may contain 50 nests but many larger ones have been recorded. There was an incredible one made up of thousands of nests in Co Tyrone in the 19th century.
During nest building, some birds have been known to steal material from neighbors, which helps explain the word “tower” as a synonym for theft.
It does not go unpunished.
The 18th century writer, Oliver Goldsmith, reported: “I saw eight or ten crows swoop down on the nest of a pair of thieves and tear it to pieces.
There have been more chilling sightings such as “tower parliaments” where guilty birds are surrounded in a field and ruthlessly finished off.
An English journalist reported witnessing such a combined attack on five towers which were stung to death. He had the feeling of having witnessed a trial and the execution of “criminal” birds.