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.

 

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.

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.

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

“Huh?”

“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 (https://explore.org/livecams/).

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 Amazon.com, 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 Amazon.com. 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 Amazon.com 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 Amazon.com, Kindle, Barnes and Noble, and at bookstores.