On Saturday 17th December we were expecting our daughter to arrive from Henley-on-Thames and then for her to drive us to Gillingham, North Dorset, to spend the day with our son’s family. The mucky drive down from Henley had made rather a mess of her windscreen so we decided to top up the screen-washer reservoir. She had parked her car just outside our front door, just short of our steps.

She had already walked down to her car; I was about to follow in my size 10s when, not believing my eyes, I froze (literally and metaphorically I may say) before joining her. I couldn’t decide what I almost stepped on at our bottom step. Was it a plastic Christmas decoration or………… no, it moved, the tiniest bird I’d ever seen?

It stood there, shivering and quivering, beak slowly opening and closing in the freezing cold. Our bird book identified our unexpected visitor as a goldcrest. It is even smaller than a wren and in fact is Europe’s smallest bird, weighing the same as a 20p coin. They’re not uncommon and arrive in large numbers from Scandinavia in winter. I think it had perhaps flown into a window or something else solid. It seemed stunned, standing unsteadily.

Unsure quite what to do for the best, we pressed a discarded Amazon cardboard box into use, grabbed an old towel, lined the box, carefully picked up the bird, placed it in the box and took it inside in the warm. After 10 minutes or so it stopped shivering and opening and closing its beak. We decided we couldn’t keep it inside since as a resident of northern climes it ought to be able to cope with the cold having recovered its mojo. We put the box outside in the back garden (too many cats at the front!). Very shortly it stirred, shook itself, pooed on the towel and made a beeline for our moribund clematis. And that was it. Off it went, fully recovered and leaving us feeling very happy that we’d helped such a sweet little creature.

Malcolm Gill