Birds can fight like feathered warriors

Published 9:35 am Saturday, June 23, 2012

Column: Nature’s World

My neighbor Crandall stops by.

“How are you doing?” I ask.

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“Everything is nearly copacetic. I’ve been pre-denied for a credit card. That’s OK. I used to have nothing. Now thanks to credit cards, I have less than nothing. I just got a call from that fellow who sold me those new windows last year. He’s angry because I haven’t made any payments on them.”

“Why haven’t you paid as you had agreed to do?” I say.

“It’s because the window company hasn’t lived up to its side of the bargain. They told me that those windows would pay for themselves in a year. You know, Pop hasn’t always gotten along with his brother Chauncey. My family threw dynamite over into their yard. Then Chauncey’s clan would light the dynamite and throw it back. Chauncey is a hypochondriac. I remember the first time my uncle Chauncey thought he was dying. The old tonsil peeker, Splint Eastwood, said there was nothing wrong with Chauncey, but Chauncey convinced his wife, Clarice, that he was so sick that she called in Father Clancy to give him the last rites. At the bedside, Clancy asked, ‘Chauncey, do you renounce the devil and all his works?’ Chauncey thought for a moment, and said, ’I don’t know, Father — a man in my position can’t afford to make any enemies!’’


In the yard

A male rose-breasted grosbeak flew into the small platform feeder attached to the window of my office. Seeing its reflection in the glass, the bird began to fight with the window. Not a ferocious battle, but a fight nevertheless. Using its substantial beak as a weapon, it pecked the poor window. Another grosbeak joined the fighter on the feeder. It was a female — streaked and brown with yellow wing linings. The female begged for food while the male fought his own image. My office window was the meeting of two one-track minds.


Hummingbird brawl

Jane Egerdal of Faribault told me of the activities of the ruby-throated hummingbirds in her yard. “The males were attacking each other mid-flight. I’d hear a “smack” when they’d hit each other at fast speeds. After fighting for a few minutes, they’d both stop on opposite sides of the hummingbird feeder and eat — like a timeout — and then go right back into the flying into each other at full speeds.”

Jane related that the feathered warriors were so intent on battling that they fell to the ground and continued their fight on the grass.


Fishing for owls

Diana Dougal of Highland, Mich., showed me photos of a hooked owl. A friend of hers was fishing in a boat 50 feet from shore when a great horned owl took the lure. The owl began swimming away, actually towing the boat slightly, until it became exhausted. The owl’s foot was impaled by a hook. The foot was freed and the angry bird was released. The owl swam to shore.


Q and A

Elaine Seath of Hartland asks as to the effectiveness of mothballs to repel deer. Extreme care should be used with mothballs. They are toxic if ingested, their vapors can cause health problems in an enclosed space, and they can be dangerous to pets and other animals. The label on mothball packages states that they should be used only to kill moths and their eggs. Users should follow package directions. Using an EPA-registered pesticide for something other than uses indicated on the package is dangerous. Not only are mothballs dangerously toxic, they are also ineffective in the landscape. According to Clemson University, mothballs do not repel wildlife. A tall exclusion fence around a garden works best to deter deer. People try many things to discourage deer from eating vegetation — other than mesh bags filled with mothballs, people employ perfumed cotton balls, human hair, Irish Spring soap, hairspray, computer discs on wire, rotten eggs, predator urine and fabric softener sheets. Some people swear by these methods, while others swear at them for not working. Deer aren’t easily discouraged when they are hungry. A study by the University of Nebraska found mothballs to be the second least effective out of 15 repellents tested, with only creosote ranking lower. The top three in effectiveness were a commercial repellent, meat meal containing animal residues and chicken feathers. There are a number of commercial repellents that people have found to work, but need to be applied often — especially after a rain or heavy dew. Mothballs shouldn’t be used inside attics, crawl spaces, gardens, trashcans or vehicles.

It’s a mistake to place mothballs in an attic to repel squirrels. This usually results in a persistent and noxious odor throughout the home — and squirrels.


Nature lessons

Turkey vultures are often seen, especially in mornings, perched with wings spread in the sunlight, presumably warming up or drying off. Something that has nothing to do with this posture, but that I found interesting, is that the Zoroastrians offer their dead on raised platforms where they are consumed by vultures. They believe this action releases the soul from the body.

The University of Washington tested the alarm call responses of chickadees against the presence birds of prey. They also tested responses against a cat and a weasel. Each predator was inserted into the chickadees aviary and tethered in place. The research found that the number of “dees” in the bird’s trademark “chickadee-dee-dee” call corresponded to the threat of the predator. Smaller hunters, which posed the greatest threat, received the most response. The alert causes the flock to mob their foe in an attempt to drive it away. The larger predators lacked the maneuverability required to catch a chickadee. The chickadee call can also refer to food, but such use would have only one or two “dee” notes.

One definition of a lek is a gathering of male insects. Midges do this. The males gather and females enter the swarm and the males compete to mate with the females. Once mated the females leave the swarm, but the males remain.


Thanks for stopping by

“One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor.” — Mork, of “Mork and Mindy”

“Being considerate of others will take your children further in life than any college degree.” — Marian Wright Edelman




Al Batt of Hartland is a member of the Albert Lea Audubon Society. Email him at