SHARE
Feathered friends . . . Ivan Cleverley holds up a photo of Blacky the blackbird he's become friends with over the past two years. PHOTO: REBECCA RYAN

Ivan Cleverley has always enjoyed feeding the birds in his backyard every once in a while – and the usual blackbirds, sparrows and waxeyes have happily gobbled up the free snacks.

But one day, about two years ago, a baby blackbird fell out of its nest in his garden. Blacky, as Mr Cleverley named him, has not stopped visiting since.

“I thought I better put him back in his tree because the cats would get him if I wasn’t here,” Mr Cleverley said.

A few months later, Mr Cleverley (86) was putting food out for birds in his garden when Blacky landed on his head.

“I swung around and my back went place,” he said.

Mr Cleverley had put his back out of joint about 20 years ago while working as a surveyor and he had been in pain ever since. But when the blackbird landed on his head, the sudden movement fixed his pain immediately.

“Blacky put my back in place for some scratches on my head,” he said.

Over the past two years, Mr Cleverley has become so familiar with the blackbird that when it hears him come outside, it will sing to him and Mr Cleverley will chat back.

Mr Cleverley has grown fond of the bird, and it is clear it has established a somewhat trusting relationship with him, too.

“He’s got a nest himself now, and he brings his baby birds here,” he said.

Mr Cleverley has lived at his Nen St property for the past 41 years. Until then, he lived with his parents until he was 45 years old, just around the corner in Exe St.

“I’ve only come 300 yards from where I was born,” he said.

“I bought an old house and I pulled it down. My younger brother was a builder and he built the house for me.”

He has lived by himself ever since, and has never married.

“I had a nice girlfriend [Violet Davis] for 20 years, but she died 11 years ago,” he said.

“Oh, she was lovely. She got me into bowls – outdoor and indoor – and then I got her into tramping and we were both swimmers.”

Mr Cleverley served in the Air Force for four years before spending 18 years working in a survey gang for the Ministry of Works. He was made redundant in 1987 and, before retiring, worked as a surveyor for Gordon Clark.

He has had an active retirement, playing bowls at Phoenix Bowling Club and volunteering for North Otago Search and Rescue.

He still enjoys tramping and regular walks with Myrna Carson, his tramping partner of more than 30 years.

“We’ve been all around the South Island on tramps,” he said.

He gave up boxing in 1969, after a 27 year involvement with the sport, winning his last fight in Invercargill. In 1955 he was runner-up New Zealand amateur champion.

Boxing was a family affair, Mr Cleverley’s father and two brothers were also involved in the sport.

His brother Ross is in the Guinness Book of Records for the shortest fight in history. In Palmerston North on July 8, 1954, Ross floored D Emerson (Pahiatua) with the first punch of the contest. The referee stopped the contest without a count, seven seconds from the bell.