If your day
starts with a dead hadeda in your back garden, you don't want to know where
it's going to end, says Susan Erasmus.
I woke up
in a foul mood one Wednesday morning a while ago. The reasons ranged from the
personal to the political to the professional. In fact, everything sucked big
time. You've been there.
work ethic got me through the shower and dressed and grumpily ready for my
while locking the back door that I noticed a large dying bird in the garden.
Great. Just what one needs when feeling seriously out of sorts: expiring
hadedas on your turf. While I was looking at it, it keeled over in that sort of
dead-bird pose you see in cartoons. Nothing can be deader than a keeled-over
The dramas of resident wildlife
the middle of suburbia one is never quite prepared for the appearance or dramas
of resident wildlife and their life-and-death struggles. It always comes as a
bit of a surprise that there is this entire other eco-system to be found in my
I was late
for a meeting, this creature was beyond help, and maybe the cheerful prospect
of having to dig a large grave when I got home would help me through the day. Yeah,
passed without my doing anyone grievous bodily harm, and I headed for the spade
as I got home with a grim determination. I didn't want to be digging large
holes in the dark in the back garden. Whatever would the neighbours think?
has ever had to dig a hole knows it's bloody hard work. There's a reason why
people bury their victims in shallow graves.
nothing on this day was going to be simple. Suddenly there were the parents of
this poor half-grown dead hadeda screeching from the tree branches. Then I saw the reason for the tragedy. The
nest (and I use the term loosely) had collapsed. And there was another
half-grown flightless teenaged bird cowering in the bushes. It had survived the
fall, but was now stranded.
Naught out of 10 for nest-building, guys
But I need
a moment to malign the nest-building abilities of hadedas. Heavens, give me
seven sticks and a piece of string, and I could do better. I am amazed this
species has survived – even thrived – through the ages. Birds a quarter of
their size do better and manage to build bigger and more sturdy nests. Don't
get me wrong – I love hadedas and they have lived in my garden for many years,
but if nest building were a sport, this species would not make the Olympic
team. In fact, they wouldn't make the Kenilworth Boy Scouts' team.
So I did
the only thing possible: I put out water and food and a box, and decided to let
nature take its course. Nature in this
case includes three ginger cats. But they are generally scared of hadedas. I
mean, have you seen those beaks?
check the next morning: still just south of seething. And rather sad having had
to listen to the distressed screeching of the parent hadedas at 5.30 from early
morning. They do manage to sound so desolate at the best of times.
dead hadeda had moved. By at least a metre-and-half. What the *%&^$? Then I
saw it. A large hawk-like bird with a yellow beak. I was not hallucinating. It
was trying to claw its way into this bird and fly off with it. It finally gave
up because it was too heavy. All of this right in the middle of suburbia. Who
needs the Kruger Park?
the survivor from the collapsed nest back into the safety of the bushes and
watched the parents trying to feed it. I quickly buried the other one in a
shallow grave while they were distracted. Its wings glinted in the sun in a
final moment of glory as I tipped it in.
morning I found the other little one drifting in the pool. Another burial. Not a mood lifter. I suppose that's what it
comes down to: if you encourage wildlife in your garden, you need to let nature
take its course, however distressing it might be to you. Sometimes there is
just nothing at all you can do to help.Maybe if I watch the news it will cheer me up
a bit. OK – that made me laugh. I am
starting to feel better. By the spadeful.
P.S. It's a
few weeks later and the hadedas still visit, but they seem to have moved to
another address. I hope their new nest is an upgraded version on the old one.