Are Birders Liars?

 

I mentioned this topic in a past article. My birding friend, Bob, is convinced that many birders are much like golfers, they lie to make themselves look good, especially those birders who keep lists. He believes it is inherent because birders are on the honor system and that leaves it totally open to liars and cheaters.

Has any honor system ever really worked? There have been scandals at West Point for crying (or lying) out loud. I remember that when I was a teacher the “leaders” in education (such sad, sad people) were always trying to figure out a way to have students “share” knowledge as opposed to cheating to get good, or at least passing, grades. None of these impractical ideas worked. Obviously. Did anyone of any intelligence think they would?

Antony in Shakespeare’s, The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, sarcastically said of the murderer of Julius Caesar: “For Brutus is an honourable man; / So are they all, all honourable men—“

Are all birders honourable men and women? Or are some outright or closeted liars?

When you are on a birding walk most birders don’t necessarily see every bird that someone else points out or points to. I certainly don’t see all of them. I probably— to be blunt here—don’t see half the birds everyone is saying they are seeing. “Look, there’s a tufted tit mouse over there!” I put my binoculars to my eyes but the bird zips away like lightning, as do most little song birds. Song birds are the biggest annoyances in birding—beautiful but fast-flying birds that are hard to see at times. (Give me high-soaring raptors any day.)

Okay, I don’t see half of them.

Yet, I wonder how many of my fellow birders are actually just lying about it all? “Oh, yeah, yeah, I see that tit mouse!” Did you really? I mean really?

Many birders keep lists of the birds they see; on a given day, week, month, trip or year and also in areas, countries and continents. Some birders go on “Big Years” where they try to see as many species of birds as they can in a single year. Some birders do a big year restricted to provinces, states, or countries, and some traverse the entire earth.

The American Birding Association states there are 993 species of birds north of Mexico. John Weigel, an extreme birder, saw 783 of these species in 2016. There are a host of “see-ers” throughout the North-of-Mexico birding community. Are any of them total frauds?

Additionally, you don’t have to see the bird to record it on your list—just hearing it counts. Don’t laugh at this; there are plenty of birders who know the songs of almost all the birds they encounter, perhaps some birders know the songs of all the birds in the world. Hey, I recognize a few bird songs, two of which are my parrots sitting to my right in my office as I write this.

As for the big guns in birding, I think these folks are probably honest as they are driven to be the best at what they do and they probably have folks joining them on many of their expeditions.

But what about the rest of us? Are all the birders in my group the South Shore Audubon Society totally honest observers of birds?

So I decided to do a survey to see if honesty would prevail. I would just point up to the tree and say, “I see a Baltimore Oriole up there.” There was no Oriole. I did this several times, naming different birds. Did anyone lie to me and say they saw these missing birds at which I was pointing? No. People just admitted to not seeing the bird.

And what of when others saw birds and pointed? Did anyone flat out say, “I don’t see it.” Yes, quite a few, myself included.

Of course this was not a scientific poll such as the ones that predicted Trump would lose the Presidential race in 2016.

So, my opinion is that while birding does allow for subterfuge, I haven’t actually witnessed any as of yet. If I do I’ll let you know.

[There is an excellent movie titled The Big Year starring Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson as birders going on a big year. Enjoyable all the way.]

Frank’s books are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, Barnes and Noble, and at bookstores.

Wildlife in Your Backyard

 

Attracting Wildlife to Your Backyard: 101 Ways to Make Your Property Home for Creatures Great and Small by Josh VanBrakle

It is raining.

My office is three-quarters windows so I am surrounded by nature. Trees and bushes are my landscape.

I see my three squirrel-proof Sky Café bird feeders right over the top of my computer, their roofs dripping the rain away from the seeds, and, yes, some birds are happily eating those very seeds. Don’t let anyone tell you that birds won’t eat in wet weather. I eat in wet weather; you eat in wet weather; birds eat in wet weather.

Which brings me to Attracting Wildlife to Your Backyard: 101 Ways to Make Your Property Home for Creatures Great and Small by Josh VanBrakle.

I have wildlife coming and going throughout my property: possums, raccoons, mice, lizards, those damn voles and their holes; in addition to countless squirrels of the grey, black, and rust variety (my wife the Beautiful AP and I once saw a white one). Sometimes we see rabbits too. And birds, species after species of beautiful birds at our feeders, in our bushes and on our trees.

I also have those horrible outdoor cats, some feral, some let out by their owners. Those cats are responsible for the death of over a billion (yes over a billion!) birds a year. I like cats…indoors.

Now, the author Josh VanBrakle is a research forester and he lays out most of what a person needs to know to attract and keep wildlife on private property; from planting native plants; getting rid of invasive species, choosing which trees to plant, where to plant them; how to create and care for a rather large pond of at least half an acre or more.

He even recommends attracting bats to your property to kill off mosquitoes. And bring in the bees in order to pollinate recommended plants (bats help pollinate plants too).

Do I think this is a good book and worthy of a read? Yes, I do, especially if you have the land necessary to put in place his recommendations. Still many of his insights actually do fit those of us whose properties do not live up to the proper size required for a half-acre or more pond. For example, if invasive species of plants have possessed your property, he gives you a step-by-step method for exorcising such demons.

In truth, I do not want to attract deer or moose or bears or bobcats or mountain lions to my property; just birds. I particularly do not want to attract those aggressive, vicious cats.

Wild nature is not so wild as it once was. One of the greatest saviors of our wildlife is, in truth, us. So welcome the wild ones into your civilized life.

Visit Frank’s web site at www.frankscoblete.com. His books are available at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, Kindle and at bookstores.

 

 

 

The Genius of Birds

 

Anthropomorphism. Over the centuries that little word (okay, that long word) will cause most of our Western scientists and philosophers to emphatically state that giving human traits to animals is an incorrect assessment of other species’ intelligence and their place in the world of thought and behavior. Animals are just instinctual automatons.

After all if we look at our ancient literature such as the Hebrew Torah, the Christian Old Testament (essentially the Torah) along with other scriptures, and the New Testament (the story of Jesus), and the Muslim Koran, we see clearly that God is anthropomorphic; he is male, prone to quick and massive bouts of temper and not adverse to killing our first parents (Adam and Eve) for eating a fruit, while sentencing all of their children to die (that means y-o-u) and even at one point drowning the entire world with the exception of the wine-loving Noah, his family and mated pairs of animals.

Even the ancient Greeks portrayed their gods as human-like in every way, albeit with more power than mankind—power they used with abandon.

But think of this: what if Anthropomorphism may not be such a dirty word or idea after all. Perhaps we should take another look at it, as Jennifer Ackerman clearly and brilliantly relates in her compelling book The Genius of Birds.

Using the latest studies we see birds being creative through immediate and delayed learning, some using complex problem solving to work out puzzles. This includes the Let’s Make a Deal or Monty Hall mathematical puzzle that has baffled most humans, although “lowly” pigeons answer this higher math problem without much of a problem. Some birds have an intense interest and recognition of art works, and some seem to have a relatively sophisticated language.

Some songbirds will give a “wee, wee, wee, wee, wee, wee, wee” call to alert others that a large raptor is flying nearby. However, if it is a small raptor, the cry is “wee, wee.” At first this might seem the correct weeing as the bigger raptor needs more wees than a small raptor, right? Not so. The large raptors can’t really chase these songbirds through the thick leaves and branches of the trees and thus the long signal is merely a general warning.

But what about the small raptors? They can nail these songbirds because such raptors can maneuver in the trees. So a fast “wee, wee” is what’s needed as an immediate warning that a small and deadly raptor might be scouting for his or her next meal. Such songbirds do not want to wait for a long wee because such a wee could be a quick end to them.

Some male birds produce opioid type drugs when they sing and so they sing like all get-out at certain times of the year even when there aren’t many local females to impress. Evidently, being stoned is just as much fun as mating!

Based on our latest knowledge, anthropomorphism is alive and well.

 

Read Frank’s web site at www.frankscoblete.com. Frank’s books are available on Amazon.com, kindle, Barnes and Noble, e-books and at bookstores.

 

 

 

 

 

War and Peace

 

I spend many hours writing in my office, where I also look out at the trees and bushes and the astonishing number of birds that come to our three feeders. I can’t actually identify them all. But I am learning…slowly.

These three feeders are right outside the windows of my office and since my office is basically three-quarters windows I have a great view of nature every day.

My wife the Beautiful AP likes to go into the backyard and take pictures of the birds (and trees and bees and plants and bushes and butterflies) but yesterday was a different day. AP was busy going over some pictures she had taken earlier when I saw them at the feeders, two (what I think were) grackles, one black, the other gray.

The gray one stayed on the top bar of the feeder away from the other birds while the black one went to the grain in the feeders, shoving aside the sparrows, and put some feed in his beak and flew back to the gray one and fed her beak-to-beak. He did this over and over again. I called the Beautiful AP over to take a look and maybe get a picture of this.

I know that mother birds and often father birds will feed their chicks in their nests but these two birds were basically the same size so I assumed they were both adults and since males tend to be more colorful than female birds I made the assumption that the magnificent black bird was male and the somewhat less magnificent gray bird was female.

“I’ve never seen anything like this with two adult birds,” said AP attempting to take a picture through the window.

These two (lovebirds? mated birds? courting birds?) continued in this fashion for about fifteen minutes and then they both flew away.

“What do you think?” I asked AP.

“The only thing I know,” she replied, “is you can’t get a decent picture through a window.”

She hadn’t. Too bad. What the heck was actually going on? Was I right in some of my assumptions?

A while later I saw her tromping around the backyard with her sunhat on her head and the camera at her eyes. I wondered what she was photographing.

I found out when she came into the house about a half hour later.

“I got two blue jays at war,” she said. “They were really going after each other. First a cardinal attempted to scare off the first blue jay but the jay just lunged for the cardinal and the cardinal flew away really fast.”

“Blue jays are tough birds,” I said. “I can see they probably evolved from dinosaurs a few million years ago. They’ve got that attitude.”

“Well, the cardinal turned tail. Literally,” she said.

“Our lovebirds didn’t come back,” I said.

“No,” she said, “but then another blue jay came over and these two blue jays were not friends. They went at each other along the fence. I think I might have gotten a decent picture of them going at it. I would think those two were not lovebirds unless it was violent love. They’re aggressive.”

Yes, they are. I have heard and read many stories where blue jays have attacked people for getting too close to the nest – like about 30 feet! They are dangerous birds and when they come to the feeder most of the other birds get away, to a different feeder or altogether out of there.

I did see one blue jay get killed when a cat nailed him and scattered the blue jay’s feathers and guts under the bird feeders. Okay, I admit, blue jays can’t defeat cats.

I have been now watching birds in a somewhat serious manner for two years – more or less – and they fascinate me. First thing, they can fly! Give me my choice of a single superpower and flying would be it. I don’t need super strength because if someone were bothering I could – snap! – just up and fly away, just like that cardinal did.

So today I experienced two aspects of the bird world; love and warfare. Some relationships combine them. Just like Frank Sinatra sang, “Love and warfare; go together like a horse, carriage and carnage.” AP and I are thankful that our relationship is love minus the warfare, once I learned that in marriage one person is always right…and the other is the husband.

Frank’s latest books are Confessions of a Wayward Catholic!; I Am a Dice Controller and I Am a Card Counter. All of Frank’s books are available from Amazon.com, Kindle, Barnes and Noble, e-books and at bookstores. Read Frank’s ongoing series about his teaching experiences in School Scobe.

Hear Ye! Hear Ye!

 

They are high among the woodland giants; at the top terraces of massive trees, and in spindly ones; in those middle terraces that can support the weight of human beings and bears, in dugout crevices and holes, they look out at the forest floor and up into the canopy of leaves; and in bushes and even on the ground scooting about. They are there. You can hear them.

Now listen, listen: birds, birds of every size and type, singing their distinct songs of love; males and, yes, even females, looking to mate, to reproduce, to continue their lines as far into the future as those lines stretched so far into the past.

Birds. Some are nature’s beautiful angels and some are cold-eyed hunters and killers; all singing their songs to attract mates and after mating, to discuss daily living.

We hear their songs as chirps, whistles, and trills; hoots, honks, whinnies and squawks; caws and cackles. Each bird looking to distinguish itself so others of its kind will hunger for them, so others will know they are there.

For human birders the second step in recognizing who hoots who is learning the birds’ songs. There are some birders in our South Shore Audubon Society (on Long Island, New York), who can connect – like that! – with just about whichever bird is making whatever song. Birds listen to bird song but we listen too.

I do not have the ear as of yet. I recognize several songs but most of the charm of the 5 AM cacophony is lost on me. My wife the Beautiful AP isn’t much better at it than I am. Still, we haven’t been at this birding very long and sooner or later we’ll be able to identify some of those singers.

Our guide Joe, a former college biology professor, will stop the troop and point “up there” and “out there,” and say, “What bird is calling?” Slim-as-slim Michael, as new a birder as I am, will answer and he is almost always correct.

While tuning in to the songs of birds, I now hear trills from my mate:

“Scrape your plate and load it in the dishwasher.”

“Don’t come home with a plastic bag! There are canvas bags in the trunk.”

“If you can put your lips on a coffee cup and a wine glass, why do you need a plastic straw for a drinking glass?”

The birds are far more sonorous than this non-feathered creature who chirps to me daily—but the main thing is I’m beginning to listen.

 

Frank’s latest books are Confessions of a Wayward Catholic!; I Am a Dice Controller and I Am a Card Counter. All of Frank’s books are available from Amazon.com, Kindle, Barnes and Noble, e-books and at bookstores.

 

Life, Death and DeBare

 

 

June 3rd was the last Sunday of the South Shore Audubon Society’s Sunday bird walks until these pick up again in late August. We were at the Massapequa Preserve, a beautiful area of woods and lakes and streams with magnificent birds everywhere.

There was also a bicycle event of some kind taking place while we were bird watching and as the bikes whizzed past the 28 of us ambling along the small paths Paul and my wife the Beautiful AP’s voices rang out to the rest of us, “Bike coming! Here comes a bike!” Other voices would lift as well. Those bikes were scary. Indeed.

Paul was somewhat annoyed, “These bikes are supposed to have bells that they ring as they come up to pedestrians. That’s the law. They can kill us. They must have bells!”

He was right, of course; those bikes could kill us. The paths were not very wide. Some of the riders seemed to enjoy almost hitting one or two of us as they whizzed by. (“How many birders did you get today Tim?” “I got me a few, maybe even killed a couple.” “They are really weird people,” said Ben in his multi-colored helmet.)

Perhaps the most illuminating of the events of that day were the two families of Canada geese, both with a “husband” and “wife” ushering their young from the fast-moving stream. Although the geese were not afraid of us, mom and pop kept a close eye on their goslings and us gapers.

I love birding; it’s fun getting out into nature, watching the beauty of beings that can fly. I even like the rabbits and chip monks and the plants and trees and water and the occasional fish you see and…

I am thinking about death and not just death by bicycle.

A former teaching colleague of mine, Mike DeBare, just passed away shortly before this bird walk. Passed to where? Passed to what? Passed to anything at all? Are we actually passing through something or does death just stop us at the dead end which is really nothing, nothing at all?

I liked DeBare. We’d talk now and then, especially if we were on hall duty together. He seemed like a good guy; he was certainly a good teacher; his students liked him, which is a good sign of a good teacher.

I can’t count up on my fingers and toes the number of my former colleagues who have passed because the number of dead far surpasses the number of my digits. Most were my age or younger; some somewhat older, some were close friends, some favored colleagues; and some of these passed colleagues, I really didn’t know well or at all.

I am more aware of death now than ever before in my life. It waits for me like a bike speeding by me along the path on which I am walking.

 

Frank’s latest books are Confessions of a Wayward Catholic!; I Am a Dice Controller and I Am a Card Counter. All of Frank’s books are available from Amazon.com, Kindle, Barnes and Noble, e-books and at bookstores.

The Incredible Fading Man

 

This Sunday my wife the Beautiful AP and I went on a bird walk at Hempstead Plains, a venue near Hofstra University and Nassau Community College on Long Island.

I didn’t like the place. You had to walk through small thickets, in and out of powerful vines that would catch your ankles and not let go, and the occasional really thorny thorny plants. The grass was wet; the walking was dirty. I was miserable.

We saw a bird here or there but I had to keep my head down to see where I was going so I wouldn’t fall on my face. Thus, I didn’t look up too much.

The place has a combination of rare local plants—something called Gerardi something or other which seems to be impossible to transplant elsewhere and is therefore on the endangered list and an invasive species called “those yellow flowers” which they have tried to kill by cutting, mowing and burning but the damn plant is taking over the Hempstead Plains.

The volunteer at the place told us to look out for ticks. How the hell do you do that, short of bringing a microscope and constantly checking the ground, the plants, your body and maybe everyone else’s body that might be swarming with these vile creatures?

Thankfully, when the walk was finished I stood by the administration building (a bunch of recycled shipping containers made to look like a building) and I stated emphatically out to the world at large that “I will never come here again” (unless, of course, my wife says I have to).

There were four people standing near me. What I took for a mother (or teacher or both) and three kids, two girls and a boy, maybe ages 15 to 20. They were about to go on their walk. I thought I’d have some fun with them. I mean what the heck! I’m a funny guy and maybe I could get a laugh out of them. One of our South Shore Audubon Society members, Bill, was near us as well.

I said to them as a group, “I saw the most amazing bird today.” I paused to make sure that they were hanging on my words and then I hit them with the punchline, “Rodan!” Bada-bing, folks! “Rodan!”

All four of them looked quizzically at me.

“What is that?” asked one of the girls.

“Rodan,” I nodded. “Rodan. You know, Rodan.”

“Never heard of that bird,” said the mother.

The boy shook his head. “What kind of bird is that?”

“Come on, man, Rodan,” I said.

“Never heard of it,” said the other girl. “What’s its Latin name?”

“You folks don’t know Rodan?”

They shook their heads.

“Rodan destroyed Tokyo,” I said. They just looked at me.

“When did that happen?” asked the first girl.

“I wasn’t aware that Tokyo was ever destroyed,” said the mother.

Bill stepped in to save me. “He’s talking about a science fiction film from Japan in the 1950s. Rodan was a giant bird.”

The four of them looked at me. I think they were wondering if this crazy man really thought he had seen this giant bird during his walk through Hempstead Plains.

I smiled wanly and turned my attention to something else—actually I pretended to turn my attention to something else. I was actually wondering if I am that far behind culturally? I thought every kid knew the great Japanese monsters that destroyed Tokyo. How could these four be so ignorant?

It wasn’t them. It was me. My reference points are my own life’s events and memories. I actually don’t know most of the current modern singers or songs or movie stars. I am out of sync with modern times.

Yes, more fool me, I’m fading: Rodan, for crying out loud, Rodan!

Frank’s latest books are Confessions of a Wayward Catholic!; I Am a Dice Controller and I Am a Card Counter. All of Frank’s books are available from Amazon.com, Kindle, Barnes and Noble, e-books and at bookstores.

Bird Walking and Talking

 

When I tell my friends that I am now a “birder” or, as people used to say, a “bird watcher,” they think I have lost my mind. My wife’s friends think what she is doing is simply wonderful. They will congratulate her on her enthusiasm and love of nature.

My friends? Here’s what they say: “Aren’t those bird people all crazy tree huggers? Aren’t they nuts? Why would you want anything to do with them? Are you nuts?”

Look, the birding community is made up of many different types of people; some are progressive, some liberal, and some conservative. It is a decent cross-section of American society obviously awash with those who care about birds and the environment.

I will admit it clearly; I like birders.

The Beautiful AP and I go on bird walks with our South Shore Audubon Society just about every Sunday from late August to the following June.

The talk is usually about birds that we are seeing and hearing – our guide Joe knows his stuff and is happy to teach us. I am, sadly, the birdbrain in the group. Of course, in the real world of birds a birdbrain can be quite intelligent with a host of parrots including the brilliant Kea, the magnificent African Grey, the Macaw, the Cockatoo, the Amazon, along with your backyard birds such Crows, Ravens and Jays – to name just some of the really bright ones. It is true, if I were a bird I would not be on this list.

But not all talk centers on birds, especially when we are walking and not seeing or hearing a specific bird or species. I have a few birders that I enjoy talking with about other stuff, sometimes trivial stuff, and sometimes earth-shaking stuff.

This moment was trivial: We were at my favorite birding place, The Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in Howard Beach, Queens. The refuge is a study in contrasts. The world of the refuge is nature; lakes, ponds, woods, and a beautiful bay, but off in the distance is the epic city of New York, with skyscrapers trying to scratch the sky. The refuge was only a few miles from Kennedy Airport where planes take off to everywhere in the world.

I was walking with Bob going past the Bay side of the park. Bob is one of my favorites. He has some very funny opinions about the birding population. He thinks “we are like golfers, our scores are not always to be believed.” Birders pride themselves on being honest about the birds they are seeing and cataloguing.

“How much would it take,” I said, “for you to strip naked, call over all the birders here and run into the water up to your neck and then run out letting everyone see you?”

“I don’t know,” he said, seriously thinking about it.

“Ten thousand?” I asked.

“You got it! Ten thousand and I’ll strip, shout to everyone and they can watch me run into and out of the water.”

“How about five thousand?” I asked.

“Then I wouldn’t want to go up to my neck because that water is cold. I’m not one of those polar bear people,” he said.

“You don’t care if everyone laughs at you?”

“I laugh at him,” said his wife. I hadn’t noticed she was standing behind us.

“How about a thousand?” I asked.

“I’ll do it but I will only stand at the shore line. I won’t go in.”

“Will you jump up and down?” I asked.

“This is getting disgusting,” said his wife.

“How much would it be for you?” asked Bob.

“I wouldn’t do it unless the money was really, really big. People would really laugh at me.”

“Who cares?” he said. “At our age what does a little thing matter?”

“Not that,” I said. “It’s because I have gotten really fat. I wouldn’t want anyone to see me. I’ve become the human blob. There is no beauty in me anymore.”

We never did establish a price for me because at that moment a Peregrine falcon was spotted looking at all of us from a nearby tree. Now that is one beautiful bird! It captured our attention and immediately took us from the trivial to the sublime.

The Fastest Things on Wings

 

Hummingbirds are indeed “the fastest things on wings” and although the peregrine falcon can descend to earth at 200 miles an hour, the hummingbird can fly its body length over and over again far faster than can the peregrine. The hummingbird’s wings can beat at 60 to 80 times a second, and some hummingbirds in South America can beat up to 120 times per second.

Still, hummingbirds living in cities and suburban enclaves—though they are accustomed to human beings, with individuals so friendly they can be fed by hand— these tiny birds, some almost as small as a large bee, some somewhat larger than that, face extraordinary dangers. Among such perils are hitting skyscraper windows, blasting into cars, buses and trucks, getting stuck in air conditioning systems, on fire trucks, hitting objects, products and mannequins in stores, falling to earth in exhaustion (sexual torpor) after mating and even in one case getting hit by a golf ball in mid-air.

“Everybody cries about hummingbirds,” states hummingbird rehabber Terry Masear, author of the fascinating book The Fastest Things on Wings. In her experience, bikers, goths, salespeople, laborers, CEOs, grounds keepers, tree cutters, professional and amateur athletes, along with some ludicrously rich Hollywood actors, directors and producers, all tremble in the light of a hummingbird’s approaching demise. They seek Terry out at all hours of the day and night to get the necessary help for the little bird they wish saved. In a single year she will get close to 5,000 calls!

Terry Masear cares for injured hummingbirds in Los Angeles. During the hummingbird season, late April through the summer months, she will save over a thousand birds with her step-by-step rehabilitation techniques. Sadly some will die. These are not casual deaths as Terry, despite her attempts at being “cold-blooded,” often mourns them. Life is precious, even the tiny life of a hummingbird. A tiny life is still big.

As we are learning now, individual birds within a species are not all alike; just as we humans differ from one another, each hummingbird has his or her own personality. Terry recounts instances where hummingbirds react in radically different ways to her rehabilitation techniques. Some are docile, some inquisitive, and some look to mate—even in rehabilitation. Terry states that male hummingbirds are quite horny. I guess that’s the way of the world when it comes to males.

A small percentage of hummingbirds, again predominantly males, are nasty. She recounts one such monster that attacked almost every bird in her aviary. This beast would nail the other birds with his bill, trample them when they were feeding on the ground, and bully them almost non-stop even in the early evenings when hummingbirds typically grow quiescent. In fact, one of Terry’s rehab friends said that such intensely aggressive hummingbirds—were they human—should be shot! Terry does not waste much of her time with such cruel beasts; she lets them meet their fate rather than risk the lives of the other birds.

The book is fascinating, well written and hard to put down. Masear has done a wonderful job!

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

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 Amazon.com, Kindle, Barnes and Noble, e-books and at bookstores.