• Caro Fentiman

The Meeting

Our wings are clipped. Every hedge and postage-stamp front garden is an opportunity to enter another world. Looking out of my bedroom window this morning, the absence of a hard frost revealed glistening tarmac and shellshocked pedestrians blinking into a sunny glare.

The chimney-pot across the street was occupied, as usual, by a black-headed gull, but as I walked up to the shop it was the tumble of birdsong that thrilled me. I passed a hedge, clumsily clipped and leaking brambles, holding a coconut shell stuffed with seeds. Suddenly the branches exploded into a sparrow symphony. Standing on the pavement, two flew so close I could feel the air from their wings on my neck. A male was perching on the edge of the gutter, desperate to announce the arrival of something resembling spring.

And then I saw him, glassy eye catching the sun, beak slashing gold through the dull sandstone. Blackbirds have won the day this winter, their energetic berry-stripping a welcome reprieve from the lethargy of lockdown. But this one was special, a white feather slicing through the middle of its wing. Here was a leucistic bird, suggesting lack of pigment, the word deriving from the Greek word leukos meaning white. The absence of colour created a kind of monochrome magic as he stood completely still and I spoke to him. These were my first words outside the house for many days, but the blackbird remained silent, my reflection in his stare.

Leucism represents a void - missing melanins - and if the bird’s appearance was hugely altered he would face a heightened risk of predation. But this bird was almost entirely black, plump and hardy: its white feather just a memory of the snow.

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