Monday, August 3, 2009

Battle ready

I just looked at my Blogger home page and realized it's been a full week since I posted anything here. That's pure neglect on my part, since it's certainly not for lack of things to report. Mid-to-late summer is the best time of year for critter watching. In the past few days I've encountered 4 spotted fawns with their mamas, a half dozen turkey families (baby ducks and geese have nothing on turkey chicks for cuteness), and one glorious summer tanager that defeated all my efforts to photograph him.

All those sightings were in the park, but the best show has actually been going on outside my kitchen window, where the adolescent mockingbirds are learning how to do what mockingbirds do best--and no, it's not singing. Mockingbirds do sing a lot, but like many humans who are eager to sing, they don't do it very well. Anyone who has ever been unlucky enough to have a male MB park himself nearby during mating season can tell you that "pleasing" is not the proper adjective for the mockingbird voice.

What mockingbirds do best is fight. They're particularly feisty during the nesting season, but they remain ready to rumble all year long. They love to fight each other, but they will happily fight other birds, squirrels, dogs, and occasionally people. Even felines are not safe. A few years ago we had a gray warrior at the house who would dive and snatch at cats whenever they made the mistake of wandering into his territory. You'd think a cat with any self-respect at all would have made short work of him. But no, the kitties invariably ran away, looking very put upon. Don't mess with the mockingbird.

All the teenage birds in my backyard these days are flexing their muscles and figuring out how much fun it is to win. They bully for the sheer joy of it. Jays and starlings will stage a feeder raid so they can hog the food, the mockingbirds will swoop down to terrorize the sparrows and finches just so they can perch on the post and spread their wings in victory. Yesterday I saw a mockingbird chasing a slow-moving black vulture across my neighbor's field. As far as I know, vultures present absolutely no threat to mockingbirds. I think Junior was just getting a kick out of harrassing a bird so much bigger than himself.

Of course, there's no blood shed during these encounters, and not even a meal at stake. Still, it strikes me as a little odd that I find all this violent behavior so charming in the mockingbirds. I'd despise it in a human being, or even a dog.

Photo of Northern Mockingbird from Wikimedia Commons.


liz said...

The critters at Beaman Park await your curious eyes.

Mary said...

My neighbor has a very young apple tree with some kind of summer apples growing on it (not crab apples, they are definitely a sweet variety).

The other day I watched a squirrel scamper up this tree, snap off an apple and climb down the trunk with it in his grasp. A mockingbird literally attacked him before he got to the ground, dive-bombing him and screaming with a raucous voice until the squirrel dropped the apple and ran for his life.

And I thought bluejays were aggressive!!

BitterGrace said...

I'm gonna get there soon, Liz. I want to see a Kentucky warbler before they head south.

Wish I'd seen that battle, Mary. I bet that mockingbird thinks he owns the tree. They love apples.

Margaret said...

I love mockingbirds. I love blue jays, too, but I especially love mockingbirds. I could happily listen to a mockingbird sing all day long. It's so entertaining to hear one moving through the all greatest hits of the bird world, long after mating season is over and the territories are well established, singing his head off just for the pure fun of it.

Julie H. Rose said...

We have few mockingbirds this far north, but as the winters have warmed, we see them VERY occasionally. In ten years time, maybe they'll be common. . .

Bluejays are birds I tend to overlook, as they're so common. Once I was birding with a bunch of people and there was a fellow from England who'd never seen a bluejay. He was jumping up and down with joy when he spotted his first one, about one minute into the walk. They ARE gorgeous birds. I try to see them with fresh eyes, but sometimes it's hard, especially when they wake me up in the morning!

BitterGrace said...

I have to admit, Margaret, that mockingbirds do have a special charm when they get carried away with the singing--unless they're outside my bedroom window when I'm trying to sleep.

Julie,I know what you mean about getting jaded with all the beautiful-but-abundant birds. Cardinals, jays, woodpeckers, towhees--so many of the ordinary birds are really spectacular.

Ruth said...

Maria, loved your post, and you mentioned the spotted fawns. I was just in Fire Island Pines and the deer families walk alongside you next to the boardwalks; my cousins feed them cantaloupe rinds and carrots and a buck, with his full little rack, would eat and then a female would nudge her little spotted fawn forward; his ears and eyes were so big and adorable, I admit the first thing I thought was Disney. Then on the beach, the deer were walking in the Atlantic surf in front of our beach chairs and back up to the dunes again. Remarkable, I thought, given the number of people there.

BitterGrace said...

That sounds so delightful. Fawns are absolutely irresistible. I've been seeing the same mother/baby pair all week at the park, and I think I'm getting attached!

It would be wonderful to see deer play in the ocean. I watch them in the lake some mornings, and they always seem to be having a great time.