The Yule Yaffle

Christmas Eve, 2015

I was yanked out of a sweet sleep by screeching, too loud to be outside. Hoarse screaming of terror and rage – my first thought was that for some unfathomable reason the cats had dragged a chicken into the house, as this was not a finchy, titty sound – this was bigger, much louder. I staggered out of bed, four-fifths asleep, and stumbled down to the half-landing where it was all going off.

All I could see were popping eyes, long black beak open to attack, one scaly foot raised, talons ready. I went back up, grabbed a hand-towel and returned to the battle. Shoving the cats away, I dropped the towel gently over the outraged bird, and immediately it stopped shrieking and lay still. I scooped it up tenderly and carried it into the study, noting Hobbs lying regally on one elbow in the hall, content with her hunting success and devil-may-care about the outcome.

I unwrapped the towel to find not the expected crow but a male yaffle – a red-capped green woodpecker. His left eye was blinking, but the right was closed and swollen. Above it, a tooth-sized bleeding hole in his skull, a patch of scarlet feathers ripped out of his cap, wing feathers mauled and askew. He lay limp in my hands, without the energy to struggle any further. I could feel dampness through the towel, and saw blood seeping.

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