The Yorkshire Vet, Julian Norton meets a lovesick Oystercatcher trying to woo his own reflection

We’ve had an oystercatcher at the practice in Thirsk this week.

The black and white bird spends his evening trying to court his own reflection
The black and white bird spends his evening trying to court his own reflection

Fortunately, the beautiful black and white bird was not physically injured, so there was no need for any veterinary intervention.

He was strutting about outside, initially confidently and cockily but eventually confused. Did he need attention, I wondered?

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Narcissus, as we quickly named the bird, was looking for a mate. In fact, he was looking at his mate. His mate was seemingly inside the practice and was making exactly the same moves that he was making, on the other side of the gleaming glass front door.

Nobody had the heart to tell Narcissus the truth – he was lusting after his own reflection – so he hung around, unrequited, for almost a week. His favourite time to impress his own reflection was in the evening. It was quiet and the light was just right.

This was not the first time I’d witnessed a story of a bird outside a door. Some years ago, I’d seen a male and female swan who had appeared late one evening outside the house nearest to the lake where they lived. The larger bird, the male, had (apparently) knocked on the door with his beak, alerting the humans inside to a problem.

The problem was Mrs Swan, who was hobbling with a painful leg. The story sounds implausible, but the young daughter in the house had captured the door-knocking birds on her phone, as all good teenagers do these days. The evidence was irrefutable.

After politely knocking, both birds moved back a few webbed footsteps and waited for the humans to answer. The female obligingly lifted her injured leg at exactly the correct moment to indicate that her leg was injured. Having raised the alarm, the pair of love birds swiftly retired to the inky lake. As darkness fell, the humans called the surgery and I overheard the odd telephone conversation with the receptionist.

“There’s a pair of swans on your doorstep? And they’ve knocked on the door? And one is injured? And now they’ve returned to the lake? In the darkness?” I grabbed the equipment I thought I might need and persuaded the most willing and capable nurse on hand – Sarah – to join me on the quest. Arriving at the lake in pitch darkness, fifteen minutes later, the task of finding an injured swan seemed impossible.

The home-owners next to the lake recounted the story but shrugged their shoulders when questioned about the birds’ whereabouts.

The swans were just about visible, bobbing around in the water by its edge. Without any thought of personal safety, Sarah leapt into the dark water like a salmon and grabbed the nearest bird. Luckily, this was the injured female. Even in the dark, with the help of a head torch, we could see that there was a fishing hook deeply embedded in her leg.

I quickly judged that it would need removal under general anaesthetic, so there was an uncomfortable trip back to the operating theatre. The hook came out quite easily, although avoiding the important blood vessels and tendons needed care.

The following morning we returned Mrs Swan to the lake. On a misty morning, with a weak winter sun just rising, the lake had an Arthurian air. There was an emotional reunion as the husband calmly glided over to meet us. The two love birds embraced by intertwining their necks before swimming away.

“Where have you been? And how’s your leg?” I imagined the conversation went. It left me pondering the origins of the phrase Bird Brain.