ATP: A Wildlife Guide to Pembroke & Environs

As a native New Yorker, “wildlife” to me means rats, pigeons, cockroaches, and maybe the occasional raccoon. One of the nice things about England has been getting to see some different animals…

Wood Pigeons

These delight me. I don’t know what it is about their enormous, chubby bodies that always makes me smile. They’re quire prettily feathered for a pigeon, too. All my friends here think it’s weird that I find them so interesting, but then again they don’t know what it’s like to grow up surrounded by city pigeons. (And when my dad came to visit, he agreed that they are really big).

Pheasants

I’ve only seen pheasants a handful of times — once out behind Queen’s College, once at the Botanical Garden, maybe once or twice more — but they’ve made a strong impression on me. I think it’s probably because of that Roald Dahl story, plus the association with game hunting, which I think of as quintessentially ye old English.

Swans

So the first thing about swans is that they all belong to the Queen; every swan in England (Britain? The UK? I’m not sure about the limits on her possession) is her personal property. So nobody kill a swan — even that dumb one who always attacks the boats.

The second thing about swans is that King’s College has special dispensation to eat swan once a year, and if that’s not the most ridiculously Cambridge thing you’ve ever heard I don’t know what is. (Maybe the story of the cat that was really a dog. That’s very Cambridge).

Also, one of the pairs that nests on the Cam has had babies. There are six little cygnets, who swim around after their mother, take naps while bobbing along the river (yes, really), and are just generally adorable.

Magpies

One for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl and four for a boy, five for silver, six for gold, seven for a secret never to be told…

I’m always a fan of corvids. They just strike me as such intelligent birds (unlike pigeons). And magpies are beautifully feathered, with their contrasting black heads and wings and white bodies.

Robins

Robins! Okay, so first of all, all my American friends, nope. You’re not picturing the right thing. European robins are soooo much cuter — think tiny, think round, think adorable. (European and North American robins are actually totally different species, and are not at all related to each other).

There are a handful of robins who live inside Pembroke. They’re entirely habituated, and will come right up to you if you’re sitting on the lawn or one one of the benches — even land on your knee. If you feed them, they’ll eat out of your hand. I spent an afternoon warming one of them up to me and when he finally perched on my wrist I felt like a Disney princess.

I love robins.

Hedgehogs

Pembroke also has hedgehogs!! And yes, that statement requires two exclamation points, because hedgehogs are the CUTEST. They’re small, and round, and totally oblivious to your presence, and they make the sweetest little snuffling noises as they dig up the lawn.

The gardeners tell me that sometimes they fall into the ponds, because they’re not the brightest, so they’ve left planks in them to make it easier for them to climb out.

Cows

Right, so if you’re a normal person you probably wouldn’t consider cows wildlife. But I’m not a normal person, I grew up in a concrete jungle, and I think cows are THE BEST THING.

Yes, they kind of smell. Yes, they sometimes block the paths. But look at those faces! Look at those sweet pink noses! Look at those huge, beautiful, long-lashed eyes.

Cows are gorgeous, and no one can convince me otherwise.

One of the odd things about Cambridge as a town is that, just a couple streets away from the town center, you can find fields full of cows. Lamas Land, Sheep’s Green, Midsummer Common — they’re all recreational spaces with pedestrian/cycle paths, benches, playgrounds even. But in the spring, they also become grazing land for cows.

I’ve started taking walks in the evening after dinner – just to get out after spending all day in front of a screen. Get some exercise, get some fresh air. And as a bonus, I get to see the cows. (Apologies to those who follow me on Instagram, as my feed is now 90% photos of cows). I’ll miss them when I leave.

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