It is remarkable and shocking too that 19 firefighters from an elite fire unit were killed together as they tried to deal with a major wildfire in the US, overwhelmed by its force and the power of nature. Firefighting is a risky business but these were skilled, highly trained specialists, which makes their loss all the more tragic for their families and their section. There is such a fine line between life and death, grief and joy.
Death can hurt even if you are a bird: Some years ago I watched, helplessly, as over a few hours a crow sat in a conifer near a blackbird nest in my garden, leaning over to pull out each little fledgling to feed, no doubt, to its own young. The blackbird parents did their best to drive the crow away, as did I, but we could not, and their grief at the loss of their brood was visible.
Blackbirds have continued to breed here, and for a number of days recently I have seen a pair taking worms into a yew hedge, near the house, where a nest must have been built. All was well until last night, when I saw a magpie sitting near the hedge watching the site of the nest while the birds called out anxiously; I chased it off but it returned later, flying into the hedge itself this time clearly intending to raid it. I disturbed it and it left, but I knew it would return, and that there was noting I could do to protect the nest. The parent birds were agitated, of course, and there was much chattering as they made a plan to save their babies – and it worked. I saw 3 young juveniles fly out of the hedge, driven out of it, and land awkwardly on the bridge, accompanied by their mother who called them from tree to tree to find food and safety in the undergrowth. They were just old enough to leave, albeit a little prematurely, while the male parent stayed by the nest where I believe one or two fledglings remained. The magpie saw the dispersal and has not returned to the nest area.
This morning, early, the fledglings were on the ground learning to feed for themselves, still protected by the female adult and the male is guarding the yew hedge. Hopefully all will be well for this little family and the potential for a personal tragedy has become an outcome of pride and joy for them. If the magpie had arrived a day or so sooner it would have been a very different outcome.
The predation rate for nesting blackbirds is high, and breeding is a risky business just as, in a very different way, is being a firefighter. Death is a possibility always, and so often, for both of them, it is nature which decides which way it will go.