Warfare often breaks out on the goldfinch feeder in the cherry tree. This is usually the case when the seed runs low and four or more goldfinches are attempting to beat each other off in order to gain access to the last three inches. Sometimes battle ensues because one bird is a particular bully and attempts to drive the others off to have the whole feeder to itself. It never wins – the others gang up and stand up for their rights. The signal for any dispute is a change of voice. Goldfinches chatter all the time, a light, attractive and cheerful sound that one of my bird books describes as “tinkling.” When battle ensues, the sound is a harsh, brittle, discordant squawking sound. But I had never heard the likes of the noise that emanated from the cherry tree a couple of days ago, when all hell broke loose.
I was working at my desk, and the noise was so loud, so intensely shrill and angry and issued by so many birds that I was startled, and turned round to see what on earth was going on. A greenfinch had landed. Looking robust and unwieldy by comparison with the delicate, flitting goldfinches, it attached itself firmly to the bird feeder and remained stolidly unimpressed by all the fuss. Eventually the riot eased, and a few goldfinches took up wary position on the feeder and began to resume their meals, whilst others remained perched on branches, watching. In spite of the apparent resumption of peace, there was no sound at all. The goldfinches were eating, but they weren’t happy. They were there in an uneasy state of truce for around an hour. The greenfinch left and hasn’t, as far as I know, returned.