Bird Breakups


Many birds “marry” for life, others for a little while, and some others continually play the fields, bushes, trees and shorelines. Females determine with whom they will mate, so the male birds must be colorful and expert at the sex dances in order to get those women to love them—at least for the few seconds that the actual mating takes place.

Females produce the eggs and do what they must do to propagate their species. Yes, there are some couplings where the males actually help out around the house and some even are house-husbands but usually the males are doing most of the hunting to feed their brood and leave the baby caring to the ladies. Some males just scoot away never to be seen or heard from again.

The March 2018 issue of Scientific American has an interesting article “Bird Breakup” by Jason G. Goldberg on why certain bird couplings go astray and sometimes end in a birdie divorce. Blue herons have a different mate every breeding season—they are the Liz Taylors of birding—while the mallards only have a nine percent divorce rate. The mallards are committed to marriage. The blue herons are committed to mating without commitment.

Why so?

First, most of the birdie divorces occur because of the death of one spouse or a lack of synchronicity in the birds’ migrating patterns. If hubby arrives at the nesting site a few weeks ahead of his wife but his dear wife does not get there within a certain time period, the urge to reproduce is too great for the male to hang in there. After all, the bird’s genes are screaming for reproduction. In short, death, delay or lack of synchronicity can wreak havoc with a bird marriage. A male or female is not going to wait for a delayed or dead spouse to hurry on home because the future awaits.

It is rare that in a bird marriage, one will say, “Go on now, go! Walk out the door. Just turn around now, ‘cause you’re not welcome anymore.” Generally the breakups are due to circumstances outside the bird’s control.

Then there are accidents that can cause problems in a bird’s relationship with his spouse. In New York City’s Tompkins Square Park, according to The New York Post, a lovely red-tailed hawk couple, Christo and Dora, who have raised 10 chicks together, have suddenly encountered true marriage problems.

You see Dora needed to go into rehabilitation and no, even though this is New York City, her stint in rehab had nothing to do with drugs; she had a broken wing.

Red-tailed hawks usually mate for life but with Dora’s disappearance, and presumed death, a new love entered Christo’s picture, Nora, meaning “not Dora,” flew in, wiggled her feathers and enticed Christo to give a second marriage a try.

Christo and Nora started the mating rituals and then – oh, no! – Dora was released back into the park.  Dora saw Nora. Nora saw Dora. Christo saw Dora and Nora. And there was trouble with a capital T!

The two females had no intention of being sister wives. They were on the verge of fighting to the death when Christo helped create two nests far enough away from each other so 0that Dora and Nora didn’t have to bother with one another. But Christo is not a Mormon bird from the old school of polygamy and whether he can handle two wives is yet to be seen. New Yorkers who enjoy the hawks are waiting with baited breath for the end results of this bigamy.

Peregrine falcons that also mate for life will experience devastating angst when their mates die. In the marvelous book Wings for My Flight: The Peregrine Falcons of Chimney Rock, Marcy Cottrell Houle recounts the death of a female falcon whose mate waits and waits for her return.

The male flies and flies miles and miles as he desperately searches for his mate. In his travail he loses significant weight, and when he finally realizes that he has lost his beloved, he mournfully takes up the total care and training of the chicks himself. It is a heartbreaking tale that looks exactly like true love.

Can a bird love? Can a bird feel loss? Decide that for yourselves, but my answer is yes.

Frank’s latest books are Confessions of a Wayward Catholic; I Am a Dice Controller: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Craps, and I Am a Card Counter: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Blackjack. Available from, Kindle, Barnes and Noble, e-books and at bookstores.

The Bookcase: Review of “Wesley the Owl” by Stacey O’Brien


Last things first—I cried. Wesley the owl died at the end of the book at the age of 19. I am not ashamed to admit I cried. Thirty years ago I would have been sneering at my tearing but in the last 22 years I have had two parrots as pets (both still alive) and I know the close relationship that a human and a bird (perhaps all pets and people) can have.

My older bird, Augustus, came close to death about five years ago. My wife, the Beautiful AP, and I were shattered. I never thought that could happen to me, my lord, I was sad because of a bird? Yes, I was. Augustus was a part of my family; he is still a part of my family.

Stacey O’Brien has written a masterful tale, Wesley the Owl, of her 19 years with a barn owl who would have died in the wild because he started his life with a broken wing. If owls can’t fly, they die. Stacey had a choice; adopt the owl or know that she had consigned him to oblivion. Stacey is a biologist specializing in wild animal behavior. She adopted the owl.

Of course, she had to figure how to feed it (loads and loads of mice) and take care of it in the confines of an indoor life. Wesley had some very strong ideas about how he wanted to live—one way was without other males coming near his “mate.” Wesley was jealous of “suitors.” In that he was much like the Greek hero Odysseus, after whose return from a 20 year adventure, killed his supposedly widowed wife’s suitors.

Despite the word barn in the owl’s name, it is an outdoor creature that might only very, very occasionally wind up in someone’s barn for some strange reason or other.

Wesley the Owl is a personal tale. Stacey suffered from migraines which became so bad that she would pass out. Ultimately, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor, then a stroke and wound up in a wheelchair. She seriously thought of suicide. What held her hand? Let her tell you:

“Wesley had been my constant companion, my teacher, and my friend. I now made the decision to honor this little body with the huge soul, and to see him through to the end. I had promises to keep. It was the one thing I could still do. It’s the Way of the Owl. You commit for life, you finish what you start, you give your unconditional love, and that is enough. I looked into the eyes of the owl, found the word of God there, and decided to live.”

I just gave my two birds kisses. These are birds I love. Stacey loved Wesley. Read the book; I think you will enjoy it.


This book review first appeared in the South Shore Audubon Society’s newsletter The Skimmer at

Frank’s books are available at, Barnes and Noble, Kindle, e-books and at bookstores.

Save the Best for Last


My wife, the Beautiful AP, and I went bird watching recently at the Jamaica Wildlife Refuge in Howard Beach, Queens, New York. This is my favorite place to go for the variety of birds, and for everything else—the marsh, the lakes, the ponds, the bay, the paths, the forest and the magnificent vistas.

You are in beautiful nature yet, through your binoculars off in the distance, you can see the skyline of Manhattan, which is always a spectacular sight. And since this refuge is quite close to Kennedy Airport you get to see hundreds of planes flying into the sky—mankind’s successful attempt to mimic the birds of the air.

Having gotten out of a 10-day post-New Year’s single-digit deep freeze, it was a relief to escape into 40-degree weather, although along the ocean and wetlands, it was still cold and windy.

We had to sneak into the park; it was closed because of the Federal government’s shutdown. We did a two mile walk on the main path; on our left the salt quarter-frozen bay and on the right the completely frozen freshwater lake.

About a hundred feet into the walk we encountered a young female photographer who was sitting on a bench looking at the bay on the opposite side of which is Far Rockaway.

“Any luck?” asked AP.

“Nothing except some flitters that are too fast to photograph,. They zip into the bushes and vanish,” she said. “Nothing is standing still today. There just isn’t really much to see.”

“Well, good luck,” I said as we walked on.

When we hit the area that had no bushes or trees on either side of the path, the wind whipped us. “So much ice,” said AP, looking over the bay.

“Nothing out there,” I said. Just then high overhead a small flock of Canada geese sailed over our heads. “I wouldn’t want to be a Canada goose,” I said. “Nobody seems to like them.”

“Do you like them?” asked AP.

“Not after stepping in their shit all these years,” I said.

“Remember the ones that were so aggressive at Hall’s Pond? If you didn’t give them something to eat, they attacked you.”

“Even if you fed them,” I said. “They still bit you.”

So we kept walking the path, stopping occasionally to look through our binoculars to see if there was anything to see. There wasn’t. The Manhattan skyline looked great as did the planes soaring into the air, but that was about it.

“Maybe we will see something in the second half of the walk,” said the Beautiful AP. “Maybe the second half will be good.”

“The second half of life’s been good,” I said.

“My first half wasn’t so hot,” said AP.

Indeed, AP’s first 29 years saw her more like a deer caught in a car’s headlights on the Garden State Parkway in New Jersey. She titled her parents’ marriage “Ozzie and Harriet in the Twilight Zone.”

“I was in the Twilight Zone with them,” she said. “It was a middle-class suburban family in chaos.”

“I had wild ups and downs in my first half of life. I certainly disappointed my father,” I said.

“You didn’t become a major league baseball player,” said AP.

I laughed, “I didn’t become the next Joe DiMaggio. I was nowhere near as good as you had to be to become a professional player, even a minor leaguer. So I didn’t get the fame he wanted for me. I petered out. And then a bad marriage, divorce and damn it wasn’t exactly turning out like It’s a Wonderful Life.”

“If we hadn’t met each other I sometimes wonder if I would ever have left Twilight Zone,” she said.

“Without your support I would never have become a well-known writer,” I said.

“The second half has been the best,” said AP.

“Agreed,” I said. “I’ve always felt bad for the people who look over their early years, say in high school or even in college, and reminisce as if these were the best years of their lives. It is sad that the right now is not their best times.”

“I have no nostalgia about those years. I’d never go back,” said AP.

“Me too. Just as we wouldn’t go back from where we came from on this walk, other than a flock of Canada geese, not a bird in sight, I prefer moving ahead. ‘Let the dead past bury its dead,’ as someone famous once said.”

“So let’s move on with the future of this walk,” said the Beautiful AP.

Right then a sparrow landed on the path in front of us. Our first non-goose! AP focused her camera but the sparrow scooted into the bushes before she could take a picture. The sparrow was not the last. We took a couple of steps and two unidentifiable black birds zipped over our heads. At least they were birds!

At the tail end of our walk all hell broke loose! Or maybe you could say that the heavens’ opened. Suddenly there were a half dozen different birds flying overhead, landing in the denuded trees, walking on the snow on the path searching for water and seeds, and some just stood on the side of the path looking at us. AP took dozens of photos. A couple came over and both the husband and the wife exclaimed, “Look at all the cedar waxwings!”

These birds are small and look like miniature cardinals. They were not skittish and the Beautiful AP got dozens of pictures of them. There were cardinals and robins and sparrows and gulls and, yes, flying overhead and honking like crazy were those Canada Geese. There were some other birds too—I just don’t what kind. It was, I kid you not, like being in an aviary.

When we finished, we snuck out of the Refuge and walked  to the car.  AP summed up our lives and this bird walk stating, “The second half was so much better!”

Frank’s latest books are Confessions of a Wayward Catholic!; I Am a Dice Controller: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Craps, and I Am a Card Counter: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Blackjack. Available from, Kindle, Barnes and Noble, and at bookstores.

Seven Days in Cape May

“This Cape May trip is going to see my getting the real hang of my camera,” said my wife the Beautiful AP. “Bring on the birds!”

I love Cape May, New Jersey. I’ve been going there for over 55 years; first with my parents, then with them and my children; now with my wife the Beautiful AP, the children and the grandkids.

AP and I dedicated a bench on the promenade to my parents. That bench is a much better tribute than a gravesite. Every time we walk the promenade we can say hello and thank my parents who discovered Cape May for us.

We go at least three times a year; in the winter, for our wedding anniversary and during the summer. This trip was from December 21 to December 27 – seven days!

My least favorite time is summer when the Victorian-themed resort is packed with tourists. Summer with my sons, my daughter-in-law and my grandkids is fun, don’t get me wrong. I enjoy the swimming, the boat tours, the horse carriage rides, the various sights my daughter-in-law discovers and, of course, the meals and all, but still, without my family, AP and I would relegate time in Cape May to the fall, winter and spring.

This year the Beautiful AP and I discovered something for which Cape May is famous, birding! Yes, Cape May is a haven for those heavenly winged creatures, whether cute songbirds such as the tufted titmouse and the black-capped chickadee to the carrion eaters such as the turkey vultures, and those ferocious predators such as the osprey. Since we have taken up this hobby, we go on weekly treks through various venues on Long Island, New York but this Christmas we went to Cape May for our normal seven-day vacation with our sights on those birds.

On previous trips we discovered some interesting birding spots, the South Cape May Meadows Conservancy, the three Cape May Lighthouse trails, Sunset Beach where the famous (now infamous) concrete ship ran aground, and the beach just a half block from our hotel, the home to the most aggressive gulls I have ever seen. They’ll take the popcorn right out of your bag—the bag in your hand!

In addition to our favorite birding sites, this trip would have us visit two new areas, Higbee Beach and Cape Island Wildlife Management Area.

The weather those first four days was quite nice, daytime temperatures in the 40s. The last three days were brutal with a monstrous cold front enveloping the entire east coast. One town in New York State had over 100 inches of snow. Luckily, we had none.

We went birding only once those last three days—just down the block to the beach—and we stayed outside (freezing!) for a half an hour before hurrying back to the hotel for a hot drink!

When we arrived on December 21, we took a leisurely walk through town, had some cappuccino at Buon Giorno and bought candy at the Original Fudge Kitchen. We stayed at the Virginia Hotel, a boutique bread-and-breakfast, our favorite place to stay in the winter season.

The first birding day, December 22 at Higbee Beach was telling. We only saw a couple of Sanderlings scooting across the sand by the waves. AP was not able to get off a shot (a camera shot, that is!)

Off in the distance was a large flock of something or other; too far for me to tell what kind of birds they were. That was that. No other birds. And for those of you who are interested, no, Higbee Beach is not a nude beach—that is a misnomer as a bunch of people in the past decided to doff their clothes and lounge around the sand showing bodies that should have been covered. Am I the only one who thinks most people look far better in clothes than out of them?

On this winter’s day, the deserted Higbee Beach was a washout. We walked back to the car.

“Let’s go to Sunset Beach,” I said. “There are always birds there.”

“I just want to get one good picture to prove I’ve learned something about this new camera,” she said.

“We will; we will,” I said confidently. “This is just our first day.”

“I don’t want this to be a lost trip…photographically.”

Sunset Beach is at the end of Sunset Road, maybe two miles outside of Cape May proper. Over the decades the wreck of the concrete ship has deteriorated markedly. Only the hull remains and some twisted metal. Still it is a natural for birds, mostly gulls, to cover the wreck with themselves and their poop. The waves smash against the hull, an awesome sight, but I have no idea how many more decades this maritime carcass has left. If you ever get to Cape May, this is a must-see sight.

Of course, we were primarily looking for birds that AP could photograph. And so? Not a single damn gull on the wreck; not one! I have never seen so few gulls –meaning none — whenever we’ve come to this beach.

Thankfully, in a few minutes we saw a variety of birds floating in the water and cavorting on rocks, among them a ruddy turnstone.

The Beautiful AP snapped away. “Nothing, nothing,” she moaned. “I can’t get a clear picture, they are backlit and I don’t know how to compensate for that.”

I should mention that AP is new to photography and that her new twenty-five zillion-dollar camera has yet to be mastered. Part of our birding on this trip was to have her practice getting pictures and, just as important, for her to get used to the camera.

AP walked slowly to me. “This whole thing is a bust so far.”

And then they appeared, turkey vultures, half hawk in their magnificent aerial gliding with a large wing span but with the face of a vulture. Now I am convinced that all vultures look like the sound of the word “vulture.” Their faces are not pretty. They are vulturish, ugly and deserve the name. I love seeing them riding the airwaves.

These creatures can dominate a Cape May sky and suddenly today they did. First one came over a beach cabin….

“AP! AP!” I cried. “Look! Look!” I pointed.

She looked and a second turkey vulture came soaring behind the first one. Then four more came aloft behind those two.

“Get these birds,” I said. “They will make up for a bad day.”

But a half hour later, after some three-hundred photos, the entire birding experience stunk. Nothing worthwhile. Yes, we did get to see our feathery delights but the camera caught nothing but backlit blobs both in the water and in the air and also on the tops of houses and trinket stores and telephone poles.

So much for birding on day one.

On birding day two, December 23, we went to another new area, Cape Island Wildlife Management Area, which is in North Cape May. As we parked, an older man in camouflage with his pit bull was getting ready to take a hike. The pit bull was unleashed and the snarling creature didn’t look friendly. In fact, the old man in camouflage didn’t look friendly either. I wondered if the guy had bodies in barrels in his basement. Perhaps meals for his dog?

“Let’s wait in the car until those two take off,” said the Beautiful AP. I did not disagree.

When the man and beast went into the woods using the path to the left, we took the path on the right.

“With our luck we’ll meet each other midway if this is like a track,” I said. “Or maybe the dog will have eaten someone by then and it will be okay.”

So we started our birding. Occasional songbirds flitted by but we could barely see them; that’s how fast they flit. High above were turkey vultures but they constantly seemed to be in the sun in such a way that they were barely visible.

In the small pond were some ducks. “One thing is guaranteed. The ducks are always on the other side of the pond, making them impossible to photograph. It’s a law of nature,” said AP.

Suddenly all the ducks scooted under the foliage on the other side of the pond, which made them impossible to photograph.

After an hour and a half of trudging through this venue we gave up. The walk was nice; the birding rotten.

Two days; two strikes against us.

Now it was Christmas Eve. We were getting into the car. “What’s your favorite birding place so far in Cape May?” I asked her.

“The lighthouse all the way,” she said.

“I agree,” I said and waited.

“Why don’t we go to the lighthouse?” said AP after some thought.

We drove down Sunset Road, turned left onto Lighthouse Road, and parked at the entrance to the woods. There are three paths in these woods. The longest of which covers the other two paths and is 2.5 miles of forest, streams, lakes, marshes and at the end stretch, the ocean on one side of the path and a long lake on the other side. Towering over the expanse of these woods is the Cape May Lighthouse.

About a quarter of a mile into the woods we saw a couple of songbirds zip by and dive into the bushes. AP laughed; she hadn’t even been able to get the camera up to her eyes. Songbirds are beautiful and totally annoying.

The first mile of the walk was starting to feel as bad as the previous two days. Then we hit our first lake and there were some ducks and, across the lake, was a great blue heron, standing as still as a statue.

AP had her camera click, click, clicking away like mad.

“I swear these birds could be statues put in place by jokers. It is amazing how still they can be,” I said.

Above us were a couple of dozen turkey vultures but they were so high up it was hard to get them into focus. A few gulls would fly by as well. The ducks were flapping in the water, maybe mating, and putting their butts into the air so they could eat whatever was on the bottom of the lake.

“Okay, I took enough,” she said and we then walked on. Shortly after we hit a stream and standing absolutely still on the side was another great blue heron with his neck all the way extended. AP shot many photos of this one but the angles through the brush made clear viewpoints difficult. He took off after a while. These birds look great in the air.

So we walked some more and finally came to the end of the line, the path between the ocean and the lake. This lead us back to the lighthouse.

Then we saw it, in the lake, pure white and slowly walking in the water along the shore, looking for food he could snatch, the great egret. Both AP and I said, “Oh, my God!”

“You should be able to get great pictures of this one,” I said.

“The bushes might be in the way as we walk on this side of the lake,” she said lifting her camera. The bushes were not in our way. The egret was right over there, waiting to be photographed.

So we slowly walked on our side of the lake, AP snapping photos continuously. On his side of the lake, the egret walked and stalked his prey, occasionally shooting his head into the water to catch a fish or frog or other small mammal. Sometimes you could see the food going down his gullet. Instead of standing still as most herons will, this guy just slowly walked the shore area and fed quite a lot.

“I may have gotten some good ones; it could save the whole trip!” joyed AP.

“I am sure you did!” I agreed.

Back at the room, AP went through the over 450 photos she took on our walk. Most were quickly discarded. She had a few decent ones of the first of the great blue herons. Then we got to the great egret.

“Oh, boy, I have some very good photos,” she said.

“Thank God!” I said. “Christmas is saved!”

Yes, indeed it was. AP takes her hobbies seriously and even though she is a complete novice in photography, I just know she wants to buck Ansel Adams for the top spot in photographic history.

We went out the day after Christmas but it was hellishly cold!

Naturally we engaged in all our other favorite Cape May winter activities. We socialized with two friends, Martine and Tom, had great dinners, and went on walks along the promenade and on the beach. We ate. We talked. We napped…and ate some more. Our favorite restaurant is the Ebbitt Room at the Virginia; we are addicted to the Almond-Orange French toast at the Mad Batter.

AP can name a number of special moments we had on this trip to Cape May and one of them is discovering that she got some great shots of the great egret. For me, that was my favorite moment and you can figure out why.

A happy wife—come on, you know the quote—means a happy life.

Frank’s latest books are Confessions of a Wayward Catholic; I Am a Dice Controller: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Craps, and I Am a Card Counter: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Blackjack. Available from, Kindle, Barnes and Noble, and at bookstores.
























The World Outside My Windows


My office is in the back of my house. It faces my neighbor next door (to my left) and the neighbor behind me. I live in a corner property so I do not have a neighbor to my right.

My office is three fourths windows so I have a great view of these two houses’ backyards, as well as my own, and also of my deck and side yard and yards in the distance. I have to say that working here is delightful as I can look up from my computer and see massive trees, innumerable bushes, and various fences.

Still, the highlight of my day is when I see the various birds and animals that frequent our properties.

I have three totally squirrel-proof bird feeders (called Sky Cafés) in my backyard. In all seasons these feeders attract hundreds of birds and dozens of different types too. I have my binoculars next to me!

Here are just some birds I’ve seen (when she can my wife, the Beautiful AP watches the birds with me – I charge a small fee for that):

Black-capped Chickadees, Dark-eyed Juncos, Mourning Doves, Cardinals, Blue Jays, Tufted Tit Mice, Downy Woodpeckers, Hairy Woodpeckers, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, House Finches, House Sparrows, Starlings, Goldfinches, Wrens, Song Sparrows (other Sparrows too), Robins, Grackles, Crows, Purple Finches, Mockingbirds, the occasional Gull and New York’s ubiquitous Pigeons. We still haven’t seen a Hummingbird.

Years ago we saw an owl way up in a towering tree about three hundred feet in the distance. It was there for several weeks and then disappeared. It is conceivable that it was a Great Horned Owl, the number one aerial predator. At the time we saw it, I had no idea of the various owls. I have since learned that there are lots and lots of owls. This guy (gal) was pretty big.

Right now at the snow-capped feeders (it has snowed three times this week with a fourth slated for tomorrow night – I’ve fallen out of love with snow) are a brilliant red , his plainer Mrs. Cardinal, a bunch of Mourning Doves, a slew of various types of Sparrows, a Blue Jay sitting on a fence looking at the feeder and, I imagine, figuring out which one he wants. When he lands on a feeder most of the other birds head for the air. Blue Jays are fierce birds.

And there are animals too. Yes, the squirrels are everywhere, up and down the trees, racing along the fences, burying nuts (and whatever else they bury) and even mating (really fast coitus). The squirrels come in different sizes, from young ones to big, fat older ones.

The food from the feeder will fall to the ground and the squirrels and birds will chow down on that. We have grey squirrels, black squirrels (these are beautiful!), and rust-colored squirrels (these are somewhat rare) and, one sighting only, of a white squirrel. I wonder if the white one was an albino.

We have lizards (little ones that live under the deck) and chipmunks.

We have possums (they come out at night); a family of raccoons (these mostly come out at night to devour the acorns – I did see one during the day climbing way up a tree); mice (annoying little things that occasionally show up in my house in the fall), and cats – both domestic and feral.

Now those cats can be a problem. They are truly hunters. The feral ones are sleek, fast and sneaky; the domestic ones are fatter, attempt to be sneaky, and sit out in the sun in full view of all the birds. I never see the sleek feral ones lounging in the sun. They may do that – I am guessing they do – but in private areas where no one can see them.

The only bird I saw killed by one of the feral cats was a Blue Jay that was on the ground munching away at the fallen seeds. He let his guard down. The feral cat was behind a bush coldly eyeing his prey, still as a statue, and then zoom! The cat leapt on the bird and tore it apart, feathers flying in the air and onto the ground. All the birds at the feeder, and the birds and squirrels under the feeders, flew or fled fast. None wanted to mess with the cat.

A word to the concerned: Feral and domestic cats kill over a billion birds a year. If you have a cat, keep it indoors. The feral cats have to be neutered (those females!) so their numbers decrease. And do not under any circumstances leave food out for the mob of cats that will descend on it. If you do, you are a willing participant in the slaughter of birds.

Over the years cats have replaced cats. The same ones will come around for a while and then new ones take their place. This holds for both domestic cats and the feral ones. Do they die? Go to other hunting grounds? Maybe both. Occasionally I will see a dead cat smeared on the road.

My office gives me a front-row seat for suburban nature. It can be beautiful and ugly just as is nature in the raw.

Frank’s latest books are Confessions of a Wayward Catholic!, I Am a Dice Controller: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Craps, and I Am a Card Counter: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Blackjack. Available from, Kindle, Barnes and Noble, e-books and at bookstores.

Cute and Unafraid


I am having trouble with the Beautiful AP and this has been going on for the past 32 years, 25 of which we’ve been married.

I am not ashamed to admit it. I cannot handle her. I cannot get her to be obedient. Even at the first of our weddings (we married each other three times, one wedding of which we were our own ministers) I wanted her to say, “Love, honor and obey.” She wouldn’t. Instead she changed “obey” to “cherish.”

When she heads for work she says things like, “Now, Scobe, I want you to put the laundry in the dryer and when it is dry I want you to put it in the basket and bring it to the bedroom. Make sure you do the dishes in the dishwasher and put them away. Also, bring in the recycling bins. Make sure your spot in the living room is neat and clean. And…”

“You know I am writing all day,” I whine.

“You can take a few minutes off to do a few little things,” she says and heads out to her beloved library job.

But she is not in charge of everything in our house. We have two parrots, Augustus and Mr. Squeaky. They control her. From the moment we all wake up at 5 AM to the moment they go to sleep (Augustus at 4 PM, Mr. Squeaky at 8 PM), the Beautiful AP is the servant of those damn birds—and the master of me!

How is that possible? She cleans their cages every single day; feeds them in the morning; hugs and coos to them when we all watch television together; kisses them; sings to them and puts up with all sorts of crap (literally) every day.

For decades I have pondered one of life’s fundamental questions: how do I make her my servant? Then I had a brilliant idea; I’d ask the birds for the secret of their success. Obviously, they must be doing something right.

“Guys,” I said to them. “Please give me your secret for becoming the master of the Beautiful AP.”

Of course, I know my parrots cannot talk but I can read their faces. All parrot owners will attest that while the bird’s face doesn’t change, it expresses so, so much. Yes, parrot owners know what the bird is saying. I know what Augustus and Mr. Squeaky are saying to me.

I posed my burning question to the birds. Augustus tilted his head. He is so cute when he does that. You see. I am cute when I do this, right? I can melt people’s hearts when I tilt my head and look at them with my head to the side. So AP sees this and she is in love with me.

I jumped in: “Cute? Got it. But how is it you can control her?

Augustus again titled his beautiful head. It’s simple. I let her know that I am in charge. You know that I am called the “stealth pooper” in our home. But there is nothing stealth about it. I poop wherever I want; on furniture, draperies, that nice 65-inch television where I aim it so the poop drips right down the screen. I poop on AP’s shoulder and even on her head. This lets her know I am the boss. I am cute but I am unafraid to stake my ground. That is my power.

Cute, but unafraid. Hmmm.

I have to say, there might have been a time in my life when I was cute but those days are long, long gone. Now I look in a mirror; a horrifying sight looks back at me.

I turned to Mr. Squeaky, but before I could ask him his secret, he tilted his head and said, Cute, but unafraid. What more do you need?

I mulled this over. Cuteness allows you control. I thought of infants, with diapers full of stinking poop and urine, and the mother changing the kid. “Oogie, oogie, baby is so cute!” As she wipes the kid’s awfully smelling butt clean. “Ooohhh, you smell so bad, you beautiful child.” The child giggles. Mom is in paroxysms of love.

Sometime during the day the infant will vomit on the mother. “Is my little oogie, oogie, throwing up on me? Oh, let it all out my pretty little one.”

Squeaky tilted his head, Now think of humans who are not so cute as a baby doing the exact same thing. They are not in control; they are despised.

So, I thought of really, really old people; those who poop and pee in their pants or in their adult diapers and how their health aids feel about cleaning them up.

The old person’s wrinkled and sagging face is not cute like the baby’s face. Lack of cuteness forces them to pay the aid to take care of them. My parrots pay no one. We treat them to everything!

Finally, I asked Squeaky, “What do you do to show superiority?”

Mr. Squeaky tilted his head (he is so cute!). Do you see that sharp point at the end of my beak? Everyone sees that point. I can hurt you if I want to. I am cute and dangerous. Being unafraid is important; it means you have power. Fear is weakness. Unafraid is power.

I learned my lesson.

I am not cute. If I tilt my head the only thing that happens is my jowls fall down in the tilted direction. I certainly cannot poop on my wife’s head as she comes back from work. I can’t bite her. Unfortunately, I am not unafraid.

So, excuse me, I have to do the laundry now before she gets home.

Frank’s latest books are Confessions of a Wayward Catholic; I Am a Dice Controller: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Craps, and I Am a Card Counter: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Blackjack. Available from, Kindle, Barnes and Noble, and at bookstores.


The Battle of the Birds


We have two birds, Augustus, a Quaker parrot of about 22 years and Mister Squeaky, a Green-Cheeked Conure of about six years. Mister Squeaky was named by his original owners and I have often dropped the Mister part. I don’t think Squeaky is quite at the age or stage where he should be called Mister.

Each bird has his own cage. Yes, they are both males since neither has laid an egg although Squeaky has laid every item on top of and inside his cage. He also lays his cage itself, top and inside. Even in the middle of the night you can hear him going-at-it inside his cage. For sure, he is an amazing bird. He is the horniest creature I have ever run across. You can read an article titled “The Four-Hour Erection” on this web site about Squeaky’s sexual proclivities.

These birds are at war. It is not a biting, bloody, rip-into-their-feathery-bodies’ war. It is a property war of attrition; who can gain the most of the other bird’s territory in a day.

Here’s how it goes. Their cages are next to each other. Both birds are out of their cages most of the time. Every other day we put a bath on top of Squeaky’s cage which he uses with delight. He looks somewhat like a drenched ragamuffin when finished with his ablutions. But Augustus, who used to bathe in his French-white CorningWare “tub” in the kitchen, has recently decided that he would take over Squeaky’s bath and CorningWare be damned.

Now we know Augustus has done this because he is a monstrous pooper and leaves his “calling cards” (oh, yes, multiple poops) in Squeaky’s bath water. Squeaky leaves no poop at all.

We used to call Augustus the stealth pooper but there is nothing stealth about him. Everything in the house – chairs, tables, drain-board next to the sink, bed, bathroom, books – in short, everything everywhere in the house is an occasion for him to let it rip, including your shoulder (which usually drips down your back) and on top of your head.

Augustus befouls Squeaky’s bath and he takes his precious time about it. Squeaky might bathe for a couple of minutes but Augustus can be in there up to 10 or 15 minutes. As he does his dirties, he eyes Squeaky. “Take that you little runt!” his expression says. (Even though a parrot’s face never changes, it does. Oh, yes it does. In some mystical way, you know exactly what that face is saying.)

When Squeaky sees the poop floating in his bath’s water, does he get upset? “Hey, you miserable senior citizen, do your dumping somewhere else!” No. Instead, he jumps right onto Augustus’ cage, climbs down the bars, goes inside and eats Augustus’ food. Now, we feed both birds the exact same diet. What’s in Augustus’ cage is also in Squeaky’s cage.

Yesterday each bird was in the other bird’s cage devouring his opponent’s food.

Augustus’ cage is somewhat taller than Squeaky’s. Parrots tend to prefer being at the topmost area of the cage – which I guess is a substitute for a tree – and we felt that since Augustus was the far more senior bird that he should have the taller cage and the advantages that height affords.

Now on top of each of their cages are toys and perches. When Squeaky sees Augustus heading back to home base, Squeaky will swiftly climb to the top of Augustus’ cage and take prime position on the perch. Augustus comes over, eyes Squeaky and gets on the perch too. Thankfully the perch is long enough to accommodate the both of them.

But here is the rub. The perch arcs in the middle and that is the highest point on top of the cage. Augustus slowly moves to that point which is where Squeaky at first sits. Squeaky is smaller than Augustus and he slowly moves from that spot.

Squeaky does not give up his hunt for the higher position. He just flies up to the top of the curtains and takes position there. Augustus is not interested in going way up there, not at his advanced age, anyway. After a bath and a meal and getting Squeaky to move, the poor old guy is tired; he then climbs down his cage and goes inside for one of his many daily naps. While he naps, Squeaky comes down and resumes the prime position on top of Augustus’ perch.

This war continues all day. Who will win it? I think because of Augustus’ age, Squeaky has the advantage, but old Augustus will keep fighting to the very end—of the afternoon, that is. Until bedtime. Then without realizing it Augustus adopts the words of Scarlett O’Hara, “I’ll think about it tomorrow. For tomorrow is another day.”

Frank’s latest books are Confessions of a Wayward Catholic; I Am a Dice Controller: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Craps, and I Am a Card Counter: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Blackjack. Available from, Kindle, Barnes and Noble, and at bookstores.


Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge


The South Shore Audubon Society has Sunday birding walks at various locations on Long Island and Queens.

One of my favorite places is The Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge at 175-10 Cross Bay Blvd, Broad Channel, NY 11693.

This place is beautiful. There are woods in some areas and a 1.5 mile path around a lake and next to the Bay – lake on one side of the path; bay on the other. It is spectacular walking that path.

Off in the distance you can see the wonderful skyline of Manhattan; on the other side in the distance are the beach-front buildings of Long Beach. It is nature and civilization juxtaposed.

Even if you are not a birder, the walk alone is excellent. You will, of course, see many different types of birds flitting about from branch to branch and the great predators soaring into the skies. The “soarers” are usually hawks and falcons, the rulers of the air. Little birds fly in the air; the predators (known as raptors) own the air.

Last Sunday we saw a beautiful peregrine falcon sitting in a tree, near her nest. This falcon can fly up to (hold your breath) 200 miles-per-hour as it makes its descent to kill its prey. I saw this once at Jones Beach. It was dazzling, jaw dropping. Think of driving 65 miles-per-hour and having this bird pass you as if you are parked.

The park is easy to find. Just take exit 17S off the Belt Parkway and go about two miles. The park will be on your right. Here is the website of the New York Audubon Society:

Frank’s latest books are Confessions of a Wayward Catholic; I Am a Dice Controller: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Craps, and I Am a Card Counter: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Blackjack. Available from, Kindle, Barnes and Noble, and at bookstores.

The Great Horned Owl in Our Backyard!


It was early morning, maybe 5:30, and I was working on an article for this web site when I heard it. “Who! Who!”

My wife the Beautiful AP came into the office. “What was that?”

“I don’t know,” I said.

“Who! Who!…Who! Who! Who!”

“Wow, it sounds like an owl,” she said.

“Yeah, yeah,” I agreed. “It does.”

Our office is in the back of the house and it is three-quarters windows. The “who, who” seemed to be coming from the corner of the room nearest to my desk. AP’s desk is in the center of the room; behind her back are the cages of our two parrots that were not yet uncovered from their night’s rest.

“Who! Who!” came the sound again.

“Oh, man,” I said. “Now that is definitely an owl. It sounds like it is right outside this window in front of me.”

“Who! Who!…Who! Who!”

“No, no, it’s to your left on Brendon’s side of the house,” she said gesturing towards our neighbor’ home.

“Who! Who!”

I went around my desk to the window and peeked through the shade. “I don’t see anything in the bushes or on the fence. Nothing on Brendon’s side either.”

We shut off all the lights in the office and both of us scoured the yard.

“Who! Who! Who!”

“Oh, yeah, that damn thing is right here!” I said.

“I’m going out with my camera and binoculars. I might be able to get a good picture,” she said, scurrying to grab her gear. “Wouldn’t that be cool?”

“I remember that owl in the tree about 15 years ago,” I said. “But that was really far away. This thing is right here.” I pointed to the windows.

The Great Horned Owl is an apex predator, a large creature that can even scare hawks. It’s not a creature you want to have hunting you.

AP went outside and I kept looking out the office windows. In about 15 minutes she came back. “Nothing,” she said, disappointed. “I couldn’t even hear it.”

“Really?” I asked. “It cooed a few times while you were out there.”

“I didn’t hear a thing,” she said, perplexed.

We didn’t solve the mystery right then. But when we came back from the pool (we swim most mornings) we heard the owl again.

“We’re never going to find that thing,” I shouted from the kitchen.

“We don’t have to,” she said from the office. “Listen!”

And the owl gave a double hoot, loud like crazy. It sounded as if it were in the house.

“Come in here!” AP called to me.

I came in.

“It’s right there.” She pointed to my computer.


“It’s the live cam that Paul gave us,” she laughed.

“Oh, for crying out loud,” I said.

Paul is one of the members of the South Shore Audubon Society. He runs a monthly book discussion group and often recommends books, videos and websites.

He recommended a Cornell University web site (

The site has all manner of birds and animals with live web cams. I usually keep mine at the Great Horned Owl and check this creature and her babies out every morning. The site was up but the screen was minimized. So when mama owl hooted, well, it sounded as if she were hooting outside our windows.

No live sighting, no great photograph to add to my wife’s portfolio, but one mystery solved.

Frank Scoblete’s latest books are I Am a Dice Controller: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Craps, Confessions of a Wayward Catholic and I Am a Card Counter: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Blackjack. Available from, Kindle, Barnes and Noble, and at bookstores.

The Bird Needed Gift Boxes


“Ma’am, you ordered thirteen dollars’ worth of gift boxes,” said the representative.

“No, I didn’t,” said the woman.

“Yes, you did,” said the representative.

“No, I didn’t,” said the woman.

“No, I didn’t,” said her parrot in her voice.

As recently reported in the New York Post, in London a clever African Grey parrot spent $13 on gift boxes from That’s right; the parrot mimicked its owner’s voice, activated Alexa and placed the order. (Why? I have no idea! Maybe to send seed to its friends?)

Those in the know in the parrot world are fully aware of the intelligence of parrots and particularly of the African Grey whose greatest individual was the late Alex, the bird who could reason and accurately use basic vocabulary under the tutelage of animal psychologist, Irene Pepperberg.

My parrots—Augustus, a Quaker parrot of about 21 years, and Mr. Squeaky, a green-cheek conure, about five years old— are not as smart as the parrot mentioned above. They can’t order from like the parrot in London or have a vocabulary of over a hundred words, like the legendary Alex.

However, Augustus and Mr. Squeaky can pitch food and cutlery with the aim of Sandy Koufax to get our attention. They can strategically poop on us to convey disdain or give a mild bite to express annoyance.  Actually, only Augustus can regulate his bite. Mr. Squeaky will draw blood every time; but he’s a teenager.

There is a great documentary about the intelligence of parrots and crows titled Beak & Brain: Genius Parrots from Down Under. It can blow you away if you think a bird’s brain is merely a birdbrain.

And if a bunch of gift boxes arrive at your house? Who knows who ordered them?

Frank Scoblete’s latest books are I Am a Dice Controller: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Craps, Confessions of a Wayward Catholic and I Am a Card Counter: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Blackjack. Available from, Kindle, Barnes and Noble, and at bookstores.