Memories of unfashionable bird nesting

Hedge sparrow eggs.
Hedge sparrow eggs.

AS USUAL I got an Easter egg this year. I like the small ones especially, the ones with sugary ‘crème’ inside. It must go back to childhood. Many things do.

Peering into a bramble bush and seeing those bright blue eggs of the hedge sparrow may have started all that.

At this moment there are about four million of these little blue jewels in a million nests in Britain. Today, kids won’t see them as I did. Birds’ nesting, once a national sport, became as unfashionable as putting birds into glass cases. It seemed to be a primeval urge then amongst boys and one or two girls to find the missing part of a wildlife jigsaw.

Every country child was in competition with their friends, to have last last piece of knowledge, the location of the nest. By the age of seven you knew that hedge sparrows made a mossy cup on the edge of a bramble bush. You hardly had to search. Your eyes dived down like a pearl-fisher and picked out the prize.

Most boys had a collection of eggs so the nest was left alone. Oologists would take dozens of collections of complete eggs of rare birds. But grand larceny was akin to lunacy, even to our untutored minds.

The sight of a new egg, the touch of a perfect shape, the warm intimacy of new life and the special cradle made for its beginning was beyond words. The moment was flesh of earliest creation. Not thinking these words then but years onwards now, I know the egg of the wild bird was the touchstone to the beginning of our time on earth.

Even finding the eggs of the Rhode Island Reds in the hay mangers of the farmyard could give the same indescribable feeling. But boiling those and slicing off their heads at teatime satisfied only urges of the stomach.

Back in the wild woods, blue eggs meant more than laps, turquoise or opal that we learned of later. Gems of the redstart and the whinchat, both blue as the hedge sparrow were even more thrilling to see and to touch.

Blue eggs of the song thrush were in a hard mud cup as precious as a church chalice, as hard as silver. The craft in that construction was many millions of years older though.

We shinned up to crows’ nests swaying high up in the willows, eager to see and feel those mottled, marbled, green ovals and hear the doleful moan of the mother. Then there were the jackdaws’ eggs, stuffed into half a dozen hollow trees of the old orchards.

We never did get up into the rigging of the ancient oaks to see the sky-blue of the herons’ eggs. Just as well perhaps. Two weeks on after Easter I still have a couple of blue and silver ovals to open. Somehow I can’t quite bring myself to break through the silver paper though.

Richard Williamson