My View - Jane Lovering: Eye-to-beak with one of nature’s smartest birds

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I’ve never really been much of a fan of birds. In fact, they hardly ever cross my mind unless I’ve been mugged for my chips by a seagull or had to remove a hen from the back of the sofa because “someone” left the back door open.

And anyway, chickens don’t really count as birds as far as I’m concerned. They’re more like miniature old ladies in bustles. And, not being a farmer or a gamekeeper, I’ve been largely unmoved by the recent increasing numbers of buzzards in the Moors area. Birds are all just dots in the sky, except for seagulls, which are very, very large dots just above my chips.

But then I met one. No, not a seagull, a buzzard. During a recent visit to Duncombe Park. I stumbled upon their new Birds of Prey centre and found myself eye-to-beak with, not just buzzards, but owls and falcons. And, suddenly, I found myself with a mild rising interest in such things, and a vague sort of worry that these birds were being killed out in the wild.

As I said, I have no stake in the existence or otherwise of birds of prey. Buzzards, apparently, being far too well-brought-up to be the sort of bird that swoops in and takes your chips, will feed on larger prey.

As I stood and watched the buzzard, I had the oddest feeling that the buzzard was watching me back. That it was sitting on its perch, head cocked to one side, measuring me up. There was certainly intelligence there, something I hadn’t expected; but then, seagulls aren’t exactly noted for their powerful thought processes and neither are chickens. And some of those birds of prey are huge!

Just to balance things up, some of them are tiny, much more what I expected from a bird, although I now come to realise that the whole “dots in the air” thing comes from them flying a very, very long way up, not actually being very small. Falconry is clearly a sport for those with extremely well-developed arm-muscles, and those who don’t mind being stared at, at face-level by something with a beak like a billhook and claws like a horror film outtake. And, possibly, the intelligence of a regular reader of The Times.

Now I have added to my life of near-constant fret, the worry that buzzards are being poisoned because they might take pheasant chicks and lambs. Which, now I’ve met a buzzard, I find rather an unpleasant thought, because, aside from adding poison to the food chain, these birds look as though they may just have the brainpower to take notes on what we are up to.

Jane Lovering’s new book Hubble Bubble will be released in paperback on June 7. Jane will be giving a Q & A session as part of the Bakewell Baking Festival on Saturday, June 8 from 3pm at the Rutland Arms Hotel.

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