Mystery Solved

When we came home from our autumn holiday I noticed that all along the back of our house, scattered over the tubs and flower-pots there were a quantity of little polystyrene balls. I could only think that they were packaging from something my son had bought while we were away but he said not. So where had they come from? Since no others appeared I soon put it down to one of those things you never find out and forgot all about it.

Then, last Tuesday as I was getting ready to go out, with a weather forecast of rain and possibly sleet, I glanced out of the kitchen window and noticed a few spots of white stuff floating down. I assumed it was the promised sleet. When I went out to the car however it was not raining, nor was it raining when I returned home at mid-day. Again glancing out of the kitchen window I noticed a few little puffs of the white spots floating down quite close to the window and realised it was more little polystyrene balls. I went outside to investigate.

Looking up at the back of the house I could see a hole in the wall just above the waste water pipe from the bathroom where it angles to join the soil downpipe. Every now and then a little puff of polystyrene balls came floating out of the hole. My husband came up from working at the bottom of the garden and asked what I was looking at so I pointed out the hole. Now, a few years ago we re-jigged the bathroom and this hole was where an overflow pipe had emerged. The pipe was no longer needed and had been removed. The hole had been mortared over, quite badly, and some mortar had fallen out! What was floating out was obviously our cavity wall insulation. Then we noticed a slight movement in the hole. “Must be a mouse or something,” said hubby and we wondered how a mouse had got up there. Something moved again. “No, it’s a bird.”

As it moved yet again, pushing out more polystyrene balls we could see a beak and a white head marking, but not much else. It had to be a small bird to fit through the hole so my first thought was that it was a Long-tailed Tit, being small birds with white head markings. We assumed it was nest-building there. I wasn’t quite sure about my identification as Long-tailed Tits are gregarious birds flying around in gaggles of half-a dozen or more and it seemed strange that one should choose to snuggle up for the winter and nest alone.

Hubby got the ladder and climbed up to enlarge the hole by removing some of the mortar and peer in, but he couldn’t see anything and nothing moved. He then decided to knock out the half-brick that was next to the hole. Still nothing flew out and nothing pecked him when he stuck his hand in. Quite clearly we were concerned about having the bird nest in our wall and tossing out our insulation. Having stood on watch for a while with nothing emerging we decided to go indoors for lunch. While sitting at the kitchen table, underneath the hole I suddenly caught a glimpse of a bird flying from the wall into our neighbour’s hedge so we immediately went outside again. Up the ladder once more, my husband began to fill in the cavity wall around the hole with glass-fibre insulation that he just happened to have spare and then, when we were as sure as we could be that there were no birds inside he found another brick, cut it to size and filled in the enlarged hole properly. I watched carefully over the course of the afternoon but no distressed bird returned trying to get back in so I assume it was the only occupant.

Not being sure of my identification I thought about it some more. The beak and bit of head that we did see seemed too sleek to my thinking to be a Tit so I looked in my bird books and I now think it more likely that it was a Pied Wagtail as these are known for being more independent and for nesting in walls. Whatever it was it had chosen a good spot – the angled waste water pipe provided a ‘doorstep’ in front of the hole and it was only a few short yards to a ready supply of food at the bird feeders. It had found itself a cosy bijou residence for the winter! We really could not leave it to nest in our cavity wall but I can’t help feeling a bit guilty about evicting it. I just hope it has found somewhere else cosy to build its nest.

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NB Pictures from Wikipedia and the RSPB

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Site content copyright of Elizabeth Leaper (Libby).

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