Friday, June 25, 2010

Air to Air

After I left the gym today and was on my way to the bike shop (yes, again. Sigh), I saw something so cool I wanted to tell you about it.

I saw a mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) chasing off a crow. Not too high above the road, the little fighter pilot was screaming in guns a'blazing to get that marauder out of his territory. The crow's relative size to the mocker was about 6 to one, but he knew when he was whipped and was flying off as quickly as his lumbering body could get going. As the traffic light changed so I could turn left and go away, I saw the mockingbird put on a final burst of speed and actually RAM the crow before he made a tight loop and flew back to wherever they'd come from.

I love mockingbirds. They are aggressive and nasty at times, but it's all in defense of their babies. And they're at their most aggressive when the babies are fledging - just beginning to fly. Both parents engage in these ferocious battles with any threat they perceive. They're not daunted by size at all -- the crow was an easy target. They'll go after cats, dogs, raccoons, and people.

When we lived in Alexandria, we had a tall holly in a planting box. Our front steps wrapped around the box, so by the time you got to the front door at the top, the top of the holly was at your feet level. One year some mockingbirds nested in there (which had nothing to with my husband leaving out raisins for them, of course). As the babies neared fledge time, the parents got really antsy.

When my husband would come home from work and come up the section of the stairs where he was eye level with the nest, they'd explode in fury, dive bombing him and trying to drive him off. On nights that he was bringing home a pizza he'd put the box over his head and they'd be marginally deterred. He could have entered through the garage but he loved the game.  The small child and I, however, were a bit less foolhardy.

There is research showing that mockingbirds can recognize individual humans' faces if they view them as threats! But we all know these birds are really smart. They're great mimics and boy, can they SING!

My mom lives in West Texas and reported a couple of years ago that one of the mockingbirds that lived near the tennis court learned to mimic a cell phone ring. He would trill, and women would stop playing tennis and run over to their bags to see if it was their phone. I'd imagine that now with all the variety of rings, the mockers have a huge repertoire!

And, come to think of it, my all time favorite book and movie is "To Kill A Mockingbird"...for different reasons. I loved it long before I watched these aviators with such delight. But now I understand this line:

When he gave us our air-rifles Atticus wouldn't teach us to shoot.  Uncle Jack instructed us in the rudiments thereof; he said Atticus wasn't interested in guns.  Atticus said to Jem, "I'd rather you shot at tin cans in the back yard, but I know you'll go after birds.  Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird." That was the only time I ever hear Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it.  "You're father's right," she said.  "Mockingbirds don't do one thing but make music for us to enjoy.  They don't eat up people's gardens, don't nest in corncribs, they don't do one thing but sing their hearts out for us.  That's why it's a sin to kill a mocking bird." 


Anonymous said...

I like the game your husband played with them. LOL It's something I would do. I don't think I've ever seen one personally. Great photo my friend :)

SouthLakesMom said...

Thanks, Thom, but the photo isn't mine -- the url is imbedded.

I just googled and it said mockers have even been introduced to Hawaii! So keep your eyes peeled, and watch your head during fledge season!

Mary said...

I knew they were mean, I mean aggressive, but I had no idea they would try to attack humans like that. We used to see them quite often in SC; we'd watch their mating rituals. Birds are really cool to watch! (Guess that means I'm getting old, doesn't it?!)

SouthLakesMom said...

Not old, Mary. Mature...but don't feel bad. My 13 year old son loves to watch the birds. Of course, he wants to be a pilot so that has something to do with it, I'm sure!

Larry said...

Mocking birds are cool my Mother has a family of them living in the big oak tree right off the edge of her driveway..they mean business.

Cold As Ice

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Susan at Stony River said...

Mockingbirds are amazing. When I was little we watched one drive a cat out of our yard, that had been stalking a baby bunny. Probably the cat had inadvertantly gotten too close to the bird's nest, but whatever, it sure looked like a rescue, and we were cheering that bird on while the cat ran off. I miss those summer evenings on our back porch, just watching what the wildlife got up to.

Thanks for stirring up that memory! LOL