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It was a beautiful spring morning. The kind of morning where soft balmy winds sweep everything up in gentle armfuls of well-beings across the whole of existence. The sun was warming the ground and the blossoms were starting to shed their covers of night, wriggling to gently peel back their outer layers; testing the warmth of the morning and revealing their hidden colors. Leaf edges started to unfurl from their dark-time states, and turn towards the tenderly increasing light of day, swaying almost imperceptibly in the warming breeze. The stream gurgled along, with a joy at being able to stretch and reach out to all its limits freely, without fear of hardening frost that it knew would come again later in the year, restricting its reach.
But all this activity was swallowed up by the sound of bird song abroad even at this early stage of day. A mix of beautiful male calling—whoots and shrills, chatters and tweets—each trying to outmaneuver and beat the other birds. Louder and louder they welcome the day and set about the job of attracting a mate, showing as much skill, dexterity and originality in their musical turns as they can muster. Repeating and honing and developing each line. Overlapping each other in a vibrant cacophony, and indistinguishable except for their aim at enticement of just the right female. Singing with their chests pressed hard forward, as if their life depended on it, and as indeed their progeny do. As if they might burst through with pride, joy and expectation.
Within this idyllic backdrop, at the back of Mrs. Wilkinson’s garden, Miss Blackbird sat high in a sycamore tree and shook herself, rustling and rearranging her feathers to make herself presentable for the day, and protecting herself against any bad weather she may encounter. Feathers all needed to be arranged in the right order to seal out the wind and wet and seal in the warmth and dry. She stopped for a moment, cocking her head to one side and then to the other to distinguish between the mating offers being made on this fine morning; being sung out at increasing high pitch, as the competition between them built. She felt very good about herself this morning, but just now needed to find food to give her enough energy until her next opportunity to eat today.
She preened and bustled and re-arranged until things were just right—dun browny feathers glossed and in place—and she stopped every other moment, lifting her head distracted by the male blackbird calls; just as they were designed to do. There seemed plenty today, at least five that she could make out. She cocked her head to one side, listening to try and make out each separate male bird’s song, and decide which she fancied...if any.
A couple of them seemed especially good singers, quite attractive in fact, and she knew she would need to choose a mate before the next few weeks were over. She couldn’t quite tell which of the trees these two were singing from, and they seemed to either be moving closer or just getting louder; but for now anyway she needed food and could come back to them later. It's not as though they ever went very silent with advertising their whereabouts at this time of the year!
As she sat wavering slightly on her branch through the light breeze, eyeing up the bird table beside Mrs. Wilkinson’s house, Miss Blackbird noticed a small window being opened. She couldn’t see into this window, and it seemed all clouded up inside. Clouds of steam started billowing out of the gap now created by the opening and drifting across the garden, and Miss Blackbird could hear water running extremely fast, gushing even, like an inside shower of rain. She shuddered a little, glad she had put her feathers straight and that she hadn’t been caught in that particular storm. Then she heard the sound of what she knew to be a human male. Well, what a strange racket she thought, and then realized that it must be the sound of human male singing. Not very attractive, she decided, and nothing like the competitors she had on her own doorstep, or branch-step, this morning. She much preferred the male blackbird songs, but that was probably just as it should be.
Despite all the earnest bird song around her, as Miss Blackbird prepared to launch herself into the skies in search of breakfast, her attention was turned towards a different window in Mrs. Wilkinson’s house, and something glittering behind the sheet of glass they called a window. She waited in stillness for a moment and watched carefully. It seemed that Mrs. Wilkinson was sitting in front of a mirror and dressing herself for the day—draping around her neck and ears no less—with the most sparkly and bright colored things. They even seemed to stay put after she took her hands away from putting them over herself! They certainly caught the eye, Miss Blackbird conceded, wondering why a female human would need to do this, and so early in the morning too. Perhaps it was that Mrs. Wilkinson was attracted by the song of the human male, who she assumed to be Mr. Wilkinson (although you can never tell these days, she had come to learn). Miss Blackbird continued to watch, now intrigued by what was going to happen next.
Mrs. Wilkinson stayed seated in front of her mirror, which made the sparkly things double in brightness, Miss Blackbird noticed. She fluttered over to a branch nearer to the house so that she could watch further, and perhaps learn something. Something that might help her choose during this chaotically noisy ritual to find a suitable mate.
Then Mrs. Wilkinson started painting bright colors onto parts of her face. First, her skin just above her eyes and then her lips, and then even her cheeks. Miss Blackbird wondered whether there would be any original skin color left to see, but perhaps this was the point. In any event, this behavior was really quite baffling to Miss Blackbird as she watched.
At this point another human came into the room where Mrs. Wilkinson was. Miss Blackbird guessed that this must have been the male human in the cloudy wet room before, as he had a towel wrapped around his middle, as if now trying to get rid of all his rain water. Miss Blackbird ruminated that she generally sat it out or just gave the feathers a good shake if she got caught in rain. She saw this toweled figure move towards Mrs. Wilkinson seated at the mirror, fling his arms around her neck and plant a kiss just above the shiny ring of sparkly color around Mrs. Wilkinson’s neck. This gave Miss Blackbird a warm shiver down her feathered back, and she was captivated watching what happened next. Not only did this figure go on to kiss the other side of Mrs. Wilkinson’s bright and shiny neck, but also the glittery ears. Mrs. Wilkinson wriggled a little and smiled at this, so she clearly liked the sensation, Miss Blackbird reckoned.
Just as Miss Blackbird felt her stomach rumble in objection to still being ignored so late into the morning, she noticed both Mrs. and Mr. Wilkinson smile at each other. How lovely... thought Miss Blackbird... perhaps I should try the same and then surely Mr. Blackbird would come and find me for a change, rather than me having to make choices and search them out every time. They do get so involved with challenging each other to sing the best songs. It makes you wonder whether they are trying to attract the attention of lady blackbirds or each other sometimes. In this part distracted state, and still surrounded by the abundance of beautiful bird calls, Miss Blackbird flew off to find herself food, and stave off the hunger which really was starting to set in.
A little while later, and with a fuller stomach, the songs of the early morning had died down for a time (well they needed to refuel) and Miss Blackbird was free to carry on with the normal business of her day: eyeing up potential nesting spots and materials which could make any new nest comfortable. Some sheep wool stuck on a fence, some moss on a dry patch of stone and dried grasses from last year at the base of newly sprouting ferns. In searching around the ground with her beak she discovered a small shiny disk of soft metal. This was rather like the things that Mrs. Wilkinson had been putting around her head and neck earlier she was reminded. So she picked it up in her beak and decided to take it with her thinking that it may come in useful.
During the course of the day she spotted and gathered together the milk bottle top, fragrant rose petals, a clutch of beautiful red berries and she even found a piece of broken mirror she could carry. Backwards and forwards she returned to one of her favored branches from earlier and laid all her bright and shiny goodies out on display along its ledge. They fell off in the breeze and so she retrieved them and put her precious finds back again. She felt really quite chuffed at having such a pretty and unique branch for a change. She bustled and rustled herself up a bit, and decided to wait for the evening round of male blackbirds singing for all they are worth again in their bid to attract their mate. Perhaps they would come to her this time, like Mr. Wilkinson had done earlier. It would make it so much easier, and she wouldn’t have to do all the choosing.
Soon the male birds began their evening round of singing. The tree branches became heavy with the sound of their chirruping and gurgling, whooping and whispering. All male birds seemed to be trying their luck in the warm stillness of this evening and the blackbirds were only one of the contenders. Miss Blackbird sat alongside her treasures on her branch and waited for them to naturally attract one of the male blackbirds singing away. She knew this wasn’t the standard way for things to happen, but it seemed to work in the human world, and avoided her fluttering around from male blackbird to male blackbird to assess their prospects. It could be really quite trying.
Soon she could pick out the two calls which she had identified in the morning. By the sound of the effort they were putting in, either of them would make a good mate. She decided to sit it out and see whether they came to find her with her new and sparkly branch of attractions. They sang on for another good while, but still out of sight. Suddenly their singing became louder--perhaps closer--and more intense and she guessed that they were starting to battle it out between them. She bristled with the enjoyment. Her plan may be working, and she had had to do relatively little to achieve this so far. She quite liked the idea of being fought over, and puffed herself up a little, pruning any last minute feather arrangements.
When the birds-song seemed to be at the utmost point it could reach, it suddenly increased again by coming even closer and Miss Blackbird realized that they must be out-singing each other only a tree or so away. How exciting, she thought and blushed slightly under her feathers, in a way that only blackbirds can do. She bathed herself in the joy of the moment and nudged her pretty items around a bit. They were clearly working and drawing the boys in. After a short while she heard one of the male blackbirds stop singing. Had he gone? Had he lost his voice? Had he been found by another female blackbird? This thought started to make Miss Blackbird feel a little uneasy.
While she was pondering this, the remaining blackbird landed with a heavy plonk on her branch, rustled his feathers indignantly and stopped singing. Well, this wasn’t what Miss Blackbird had been expecting. He looked exhausted, and took few deep breaths before tweeting anything. When he did speak he clearly had hardly any energy left, as he was gasping in between tweeting.
‘What happened to you then?’
Miss Blackbird looked around to make sure he was speaking to her. He was quite handsome—for a blackbird— and she became quite coy. He seemed quite bullish (in a bird way of course).
‘Trying out something new,’ she said shyly.
‘Oh yes?’ he just about gasped ’and what would that be then ...?’
‘Well...’ Miss Blackbird started to explain ’...I wondered whether putting out all these attractions might make the difference, you know. Whether they would make you notice me first.’ She nodded her head down to her row of shiny fine things.
Mr. Blackbird looked doubtful, and his eyes followed her nod to the items on the branch.
‘What I mean is that before I tried this, I had to follow a number of you around for quite a bit...and it is time consuming...so I thought that perhaps these beautiful things would attract you instead and save me all the journeys’. Miss blackbird looked at Mr. Blackbird and cringed silently inside to herself as she could tell that he was not overly impressed.
Mr. Blackbird heaved a heavy sigh, looked the trinkets up and down and shook his head sorrowfully.
‘So what exactly, then is the point of me making all this effort and doing all this singing at the top of my voice?’ He seemed exasperated.
‘Well...er...it just that my idea seemed to work in the human world that way. I thought you might find it appealing...’ She shrugged.
Mr. Blackbird shook his head.
‘What on Earth’s the point...’ He said again, half to himself, ‘...you go to all this trouble and female birds just don’t do what’s expected.’ And then, having regained some of his composure, to Miss Blackbird he said, ‘You shouldn’t mess with things you don’t really know anything about. You can’t change the order things are meant to take and you don’t need all the trinkets and shineys anyway. You’re lovely as you are, but you do need to make the effort to find me, especially after me almost singing my beak off like that. What’s the point otherwise? A blackbird needs to feel specially chosen.‘
Miss Blackbird felt slightly giddy with the passion of this tweet. He’d had his say now so felt a lot calmer. He moved up to Miss Blackbird and nuzzled her cheek fondly.
‘You’re right...’ said Miss Blackbird, nuzzling into him also. Although privately she reckoned that it had made the difference as he had come running this time, but she wouldn’t risk that again in the future.
And they went on to have a happy nest full of healthy eggs.
And this story goes to show that, natural life courses will prevail, despite best efforts at improvement!