Dick Warner's final column: Private eye on a nest

This is the last of Dick Warner’s hugely popular columns following his death last Friday. Here, he discusses birds’ nests and eggs

I found an egg in my yard the other day or, to be more accurate, an eggshell. It was pure white and about half the size of a small hen’s egg. It had been opened at the broad end and the contents removed.

It was the egg of a wood pigeon and, because I have a taste for natural history detective stories, I started to speculate on its story. There are several wood pigeons nesting around the place at present, more than in previous years.

They tend to build in well-grown hawthorn trees, three or four metres above the ground, and they are quite particular in their choice of tree — dense enough to provide some cover for the nest but open enough to allow room for their wingspan when they’re flying in and out.

They are far less particular about the construction of the nest. It’s just a skimpy, flat platform of twigs, often so loosely woven that you can see the eggs through it from below.

For three days we had had squally Atlantic weather. The gusts had been strong enough to blow an egg out of such an inadequate nest and this could have been what happened. However, the shell was empty and it seemed more likely that some predator had removed it from the nest and eaten it in the yard. What bird or animal could have done that?

Magpies are not common around here. However, if a bird had done it, it had to be one with a beak large enough to carry the egg from the nest to the yard where it opened it and ate the contents.

There are a lot of jackdaws around and I reckoned they might just be able to do this. All members of the crow family, even the little jackdaw, will eat other birds eggs from time to time.

Rats mainly eat the eggs of ground-nesting birds but they are also good climbers. I’ve watched one ascending the vertical leg of my bird table to get at the stuff on top of it. I reckon this means they could reach a wood pigeon’s nest. Then I looked at the enigmatic eggshell, which was now sitting on my desk, and another thought occurred.

I had seen some evidence that a pine marten, or more probably a family of pine martens, had come to live in the area. Part of the evidence was the killing of several of my hens while they were roosting in trees in their run over five metres above ground. I don’t know a lot about pine martens because they’re recent arrivals in my part of the country.

However, I reckon if they could get my hens they are well capable of robbing a pigeon’s nest.

The staff of the Irish Examiner were saddened to hear of the death of our nature columnist Dick Warner last Friday, and regret that this is the last of his hugely popular pieces on this page. Over many years, Mr Warner’s columns have communicated his incredible knowledge and deep love of the natural world in a way that was accessible to readers of all ages. We would like to extend our sympathies to his family and friends.


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