Tales from the Farm – Heartbroken

Our first loss at the farm; a beautiful female who died while collecting nesting material.

This last weekend was a little bitter-sweet on the farm.

The weather was glorious for the start of Spring; almost like a Summer’s day. That meant a huge amount of progress outside in preparation for the bees arriving; there was a lot to finish in the jungle area and I was especially keen to get the last few plants still in pots from our move into the ground so that they could benefit from the warming soil and sunshine.

I was walking back to the greenhouse and now that the vegetable garden, where the greenhouse sits, is enclosed with woven hazel fencing, I didn’t see the bird until I had turned the corner. There on the floor, laying motionless on the gravel path, was a beautiful female chaffinch. No visible signs of trauma but in her beak she was still clutching some nesting material that she had foraged. Next to her stood her mate; an equally beautiful male chaffinch.

As I stepped closer, the male hopped away but still stayed close; he perched on a raised bed about 3 feet away and stood, his head cocked, watching me and his mate. I very gently approached her, hoping that perhaps she might be stunned, had she flown into a window of the greenhouse perhaps? It didn’t look like she had, so I scooped her up, laid her on one of my hessian sacks and left her on top of a pallet outside. I suspected as she was still quite warm that whatever had happened to cause her untimely death, had only recently taken place, so I felt that the male, clearly still waiting for her to recover, needed to see or spend time with her.

With a heavy heart, knowing that there were likely to be eggs or perhaps even young waiting for the return of their mother, I carried on with my garden chores. All the time I couldn’t shake from my mind the image of that male chaffinch waiting for his mate; a heartwarming and yet heartbreaking act of avian loyalty. I’m not sure that I’ve ever experienced so much synergy to nature before but I suppose a combination of things continue to compound and exacerbate that: the results and continual research for The Good Life Project; the blood, sweat and aching body that is going into renovating the farm and living in the countryside and of course our ever-closer bond to nature: keeping bees and being regularly visited by more than 30 different species of British wild birds. We feed them and they come and are becoming ever more inquisitive to us. I suspect that within just a few weeks we will be feeding chaffinches by hand. You respect them and they respect you. I was once told by one of my professors that it is a human privilege to touch an animal, not a human right.

Later on that afternoon I remembered that I had left the female chaffinch outside and thought it was best to dispose of her. I had no idea what I should do but as I approached the area of the garden where I’d left her, some 4 hours earlier; there was the male. Still mourning. Still hoping.

I left her out overnight; it didn’t feel like it was quite time for him to say goodbye.

The following day I went to clear her away for good and there he was, stood on the roof of the barn, looking at her still: her mate. It was truly heartbreaking. Never have I been witness to a bond so strong in wild birds.

And so it is with those we love and those we work with. Over time our relationships develop in one of two ways: they either grow or they deteriorate. Effort, dignity, love and respect are the ties that bond and create ever-lasting and memorable relationships.

You respect them, they respect you.

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