Sue McBride

Final Flight

Sue McBride

My name is Breeze and my story is about me, my parents, my four brothers and sisters and a killer.

We are blue-tit birds and as everyone knows, all blue-tit birds have names.

My first memories are of my dark tight shell and the noises of my siblings cheeps and scratches and our parents gentle coos of encouragement. I remember feeling the light spring sunshine warming my shell through the wooden walls of our bird box and sensed the light shining through my shell, calling me to the world.

When my shell got too tight, I scratched at it with my beak until I was able to break it open and see that my brothers and sisters had already broken free. There were five of us and I forget most of their names, all but my sister, Shade, who was closest to me in our nest. I remember our home was in a bird box which was attached to the humans house. Our parents had made our nest from bits of old moss and straw from the nearby fields and gardens. It felt safe and soft to me. It smelt of home.

Our home was near the sea and big scary seagulls would sometimes screech out their presence, startling us all at times and making us all shrink further into our nest. I learnt later that we lived near a seaside town, it is called New Brighton.

My memories are hazy but I remember I was always a bit hungry and I was so much smaller than the rest. My siblings looked so big next to me and often squashed me against the side of our nest.

Our parents would sometimes sigh, their blue and yellow heads to one side and try to give me food too, little insects and grubs, which were often stolen from me by my neighbouring siblings, usually Shade, who was growing so big and strong.

She would sometimes push me toward the entrance of our box, pecking at me and I would cry out, flapping my little wings in distress as I tried to get back to safety.

Then one day something terrible happened. As I was stretching my wings, Shade caught some of my special feathers, wing feathers our parents called them, and ripped them out with her beak.

I had stared in horror at my poor little wing, but Shade took no notice, opening her mouth, as ever, to persuade our parents to feed her. I wondered then how I would be able to fly when the time came. Over the weeks I worried and fussed about my poor wing feathers and my siblings would sometimes become irritated with me, pecking and squashing me.

Our parents had been telling us that we were their fifth brood and we must grow strong to prepare for our Fledge Day. This was the special day, they explained, when we would be able to see the grass and feel the air in our wings. It would be an exciting day they explained, but also a dangerous day and we were all to do our best to listen to our parents calls and instructions.

But how was I to manage without all of my wing feathers? I stretched and flapped in our little box as often and as best I could, trying to get strength in my wings.

I remember Fledge day clearly. It was a bright warm day and I remember the pink cherry blossom on the nearby tree, so bright and eye catching. The yellow daffodils on the ground were fading and all around the green fat buds on the trees were bursting with life. The grass garden seemed to stretch for miles and thick ivy coated the wooden fences.

We had all been trying out our wings in our cramped home. Shade’s wings would scratch my face as I tried my best to stretch my own little wings, one of which still looked so wrong with its special feathers missing.

She was the first to fledge, off she went followed swiftly by the others who flapped down onto the humans garden into the long grass.

Now it was my turn. I was last to fledge and I could hear our parents reassuring calls as I took my position at the edge of our home. I remembered to put three toes of each foot in front of the edge, and one toe behind to help me to balance as I had been told. It was my turn now and my little heart hammered in my chest as I took a deep breath. The ground looked such a long way down and my poor little wing looked unfinished without its important feathers.

Then with a deep breath, I jumped, stretching my wings out and flapping them hard. I saw the concrete path coming up before me as I hurtled downward and I just knew this would not be safe.

So with a final burst of energy I managed to land on the grass, the force making me roll in a dazed heap of feathers under the thick ivy. My head was dizzy and it took me a moment to roll upright and peep through the ivy to see where my family was.

All four of my siblings had landed safely, two on a low hedge and two in the long grass. I noticed that Shade had landed on the grass and was already trying to fly up to our parents in the apple tree, so strong was she.

Then I heard it, the shriek of humans and the smell and sight of cat who had run out of the humans box. Cat was so fast, a shooting flame of ginger fur as she raced into the garden.

I watched from my hiding place as she pounced on each of my siblings, killing each with a swift, savage bite and then rapidly going on to the next. Her huge claws and sharp teeth showed no mercy and I will never forget my parents heartfelt cries and my  siblings little bodies. My heart went out to them, even for Shade who had been so mean to me at times.

Our parents were magnificent, screaming and dive bombing cat who would snake her ginger paw up at them, sometimes missing them by inches. They swooped and screeched for so long as the humans joined in the melee, crying and shouting to each other, trying to catch cat who was so swift and merciless.

Eventually the humans caught cat and I could see their tears and cries of distress and cat’s evil smile.

I stared out at the scene, so shocked was I. My siblings little blue and yellow feathers mixed with the cherry blossom petals and littered the garden like obscene confetti. Their bodies, so still, so strange. I too remained still, something ancient warning me not to move.

My parents called for me when dusk had fallen and cat was safely inside and I was able to gather my courage to try to flap into the lower branches of a nearby tree. I tried twice, but my one sided flapping sent me tumbling back onto the grass. I was too anxious to look back at the human house to see if cat was around, but I caught my parents’ dark shining eyes in the gathering dusk, watching the human’s box. This gave me courage but by the time I tried for the third time my strength was waning.

Then I heard one of the humans come outside, and with a strength bred of fear I launched myself upwards to the safety of a lower tree branch.

My parents came and perched either side of me and I saw that their yellow breast feathers were damp and stained from their blue tears. They silently nuzzled me with their beaks and we grieved together in our own special way, huddling together for comfort. We looked out at my siblings poor little bodies and my parents vowed never to bring any more baby blue tit birds to this garden.

Over the next weeks my parents fed me so well I grew strong and big. They gave me so many grubs and insects that I grew fast and plump. My feathers grew back and I was able to do some practice flights when my parents told me it was safe to do so. I always stayed far up the apple tree away from cat’s reach and I could sometimes see her eyeing me hungrily. But I took no chances and stayed as high up the tree as possible.

Soon I was ready to leave my parents to begin my own life in the wild as is usual for us birds. They warned me never to return to the garden where my siblings were murdered as it would not be safe.

I have had chicks of my own now. My mate and I have found a safer place to make our nest and raise our young. We both searched around and found a good place in a quiet part of the Wirral. It is a little garden attached to a house  where an old lady lives. There are no screeching seagulls and no signs of a cat. The old lady leaves food out for us and sometimes talks to us in her strange human tongue. She does not seem to be a threat.

When I am foraging for food for my chicks and sometimes out of curiosity, I fly over the garden where my siblings were murdered and I remember my parents warnings.

I often see the humans as I fly over, looking at my old home and I think they wonder why no blue tit will nest there.

But our blue-tit bird memories run deep.

Williamson Art Gallery & Museum