Friday, June 15, 2012

Nature's Bullies

Whoo, whoo.  Caw. Caw. More raucous cawing.  In fact, it sounded like the set of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. I partially opened one eye to check the time.  The sky peeping around the edges of my shades was barely light--I couldn’t even see a hint of rose or pink tingeing the gray dawn.  What in the heck was going on?

 I tried to ignore the cacophony outside, but that proved impossible.  Noting my husband had his eyes wide open, I asked, “What are they doing out there.  Is it a crow convention?”
“Nope.  Listen.”

For a short while silence reigned and then I heard the quiet whoo, whoo of an owl.  “Did you hear it?” he asked. 

“What?  The owl?”

“Yea, the owl.  That’s what they are after.”

Crows after an owl.  But why?  My now wide awake bedmate explained that people who hunt crows often use owl calls and decoys to lure crows.  I recalled seeing those in the Cabela’s catalogue and at sporting good stores.   He continued to explain that owls sometimes feast on crows in their nightly forays. 

That explained the crows’ animosity, and it got me to thinking about bullyish behavior.  Sure, that owl or one like him had dined on a crow at some point, but the crows outside my window had formed a regular lynch mob, and from the noise they made, this owl faced serious trouble.  The odds were at least thirty to one.

Finally, the owl got the picture that the crows meant business, and he took off for other perches.  At once, the crows croaked a final raucous cry and rose after him.  We could hear their wings flapping sharply in unison, a final sound like someone running a sharp edge along brocade.  I could imagine the barely risen sun glinting blue-black off their wings as these stealth fighters pursued the enemy.

Finally, quiet reasserted itself in our bedroom, and my brain busied itself thinking about other bullies of nature.  Particularly obnoxious are the blue jays who hog the feeder, scolding and pushing smaller birds away.  Last spring we often served up to twelve jays at a time, and they  certainly held their own in screeching contests.   Like all bullies, they don’t intimidate easily.

Starlings can also take over a feeder and run off the small birds.  Once they invade, I can only hope the blue jays will dash back and run them off.  Unfortunately, they usually arrive in such numbers that running them off is a pipe dream.  We have to make life-threatening explosion noises before they get the hint to leave.

These birds are obvious bully types--the kind you remember from the playground--the bigger, louder, swaggerers who pick on littler guys.  You know the type.  Do you remember the other kind of playground bully--the little guy with a Napoleon complex?  He always took on the big guys, or he took on more than one guy at a time.  Sure, they usually cleaned his clock, but he swaggered away from the fight as a victor just because he challenged the big guy. 

Well, nature has the equivalent.  Drive around the countryside on a warm spring or summer day.  Keep your eyes peeled until you spot a hawk or other bird of prey floating on an updraft.  Watch closely.  Chances are you will spot a much smaller bird or birds darting in and out, attacking that hawk.  Those feisty king birds zero in like little gnats, irritating and amazingly audacious.  Amazingly, they do not appear to faze the hawk. 

That morning wake up call certainly took me far afield in my mental ramblings.  Time to get outside to see what is really going on in the bird world.

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