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Birds in my house

Malcolm Ogilvie

When we lived in Gloucestershire, out in the country with a garden which attracted many birds, I can never remember a bird entering the house voluntarily, despite the doors and windows often being open. However, here on Islay it is commonplace for birds to come indoors. Even in the short time it takes to go from the back door to the workshop, which houses the deep freeze, leaving the door open almost guarantees that a Robin will be in the kitchen on one's return.

We noted the apparent willingness of birds to come indoors as soon as we moved here. The previous owners of the house had not apparently done anything to encourage it, indeed they kept a cat. The following, in approximate order of frequency, have all entered the house of their own accord: Robin, Dunnock, House Sparrow, Starling, Blackbird, Chaffinch, Greenfinch and Wren. Of the other regular visitors to the garden, I am still waiting for first visits from Collared Dove, Song Thrush, Goldfinch, Siskin and Blue Tit.

Two possible reasons occur to me why these birds should make routinely enter the house. Firstly, they are coming for food. Granted we have a dog, and his bowl, often containing food, is usually on the kitchen floor, but I haven't noticed any of the birds feeding from it. The dog, by the way, is always interested when there's a bird in the house, but neither attempts to catch them and nor chases them away or keeps them out. If it is food, then arguably there was far more of it lying around as crumbs and other spills when we lived in Gloucestershire and were bringing up two children! The second reason could be that the birds are seeking shelter. Certainly, the climate here is a great deal wetter and windier than in the south, but I can find no correlation of visits with bad weather. The birds come inside in all conditions.

There was one bird visitor which certainly was after food, but in the shape of another bird! I walked out of the house to post a letter - the postbox is less than 100 yards away - and left the door open. When I returned, there was a House Sparrow and a Sparrowhawk both flapping against the glass of the same window! Presumably the House Sparrow was being pursued by the Sparrowhawk and it decided to escape by flying in at the open door, only to be followed by the hawk. I caught both birds and released the House Sparrow but waited a decent interval before releasing the Sparrowhawk.

We've got used to our visitors, just as we've got used to wiping their deposits from the backs of chairs or discovering them when we move a picture and find the splashes down the wall behind. And the birds have got very accustomed to the house. One Robin waits unflustered while I re-open the back door or open a window in another room into which it has flown. It obediently returns to the garden, but I know it will be back.

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Dr Ogilvie is a natural history writer and editor, formerly a research scientist with the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, and resident on the island of Islay since 1986. Until 1997, a member of the 'British Birds' editorial board and also one of the editorial team which produced 'Birds of the Western Palearctic'.