Monday, January 21, 2008

Rat trap!

Production editor Matt Merritt writes:

More and more when out birding, I notice rats picking around underneath feeders and bird tables. And of course, they can't be blamed for taking advantage of an easy, accessible food source, especially when such feeders are often close to bins overflowing with man's leavings, to say nothing of rubbish simply dumped by the wayside. These opportunistic rodents rarely show any fear of humans or birds, although at one feeder I see regularly, the Mallards are often willing to claim sole rights to the ground below and its rich pickings.

On Saturday, then, I wasn't surprised to see three rats scuffling around in the undergrowth below the bird table in the car-park at Staunton Harold Reservoir, near Melbourne, Derbyshire. They went about their business entirely unconcerned by human or avian passers-by, sometimes feeding side-by-side with a pair of Dunnocks. After watching them for a while, I turned my attention to the real business of the day - Yellowhammers, Tree Sparrows and Siskins, the former two always encouragingly easy to find at this probably underwatched site.

Then, as things went quiet for a few minutes, I noticed that the smallest of the three rats was climbing one of the nearby bushes in preparation for an attempt at jumping, squirrel-style, on to the table itself. There's wire there to stop it, but it wasn't to know that, and all that prevented it was the fact that its weight bent the branch out of reach every time it looked to be within leaping range. As I watched, fascinated, and the rat pondered its next move, there was a sudden flash of black and white, and a Magpie landed next to it. It gave one savage peck to the head, and the rat fell from the branch, dead, before the Maggie started making a meal of it. Its demise didn't seem to bother the other two rats, who carried on feeding, and none of the other birds seemed especially wary of the killer corvid.

Nature, red in tooth and claw, and all that, and a reminder that there's always someone out there just that bit more opportunistic than you.

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