Updated 15 March 2013

The Day of the Shallow Grave

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.


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.

A Calvinist work ethic got me through the shower and dressed and grumpily ready for my 9-to-5.

It was 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 bird.

The dramas of resident wildlife

Somehow in 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 back garden.

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, sure.

The day 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?

Anyone who 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.

But no, 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?

A mood 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.

But the 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?

I herded 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.

The next 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.




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2013-02-09 07:27



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