Al Batt: Why do cardinals hate me, and who is that owl calling?

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, April 25, 2023

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Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt

Al Batt

I was in the grocery store. A man, holding a cellphone to his ear, stared at the shelves and said, “What kind of bread do you want me to get?” His wife was several aisles away. They had divided the food-gathering duties. People hear a pair of great horned owls hooting back and forth, and wonder what they’re talking about. The duets help the owls stay in touch and reinforce their pair bond. The female’s voice is recognizably higher in pitch than the male’s. He might ask her what kind of rat she wants.

Few things are more motormouthed than Canada geese. I was at a park when a gander determined I was public enemy #1. He crouched, put a kink in his neck and charged. When I stopped, he stopped. When I moved, he advanced. The last I saw of that gander, he was standing on one leg. Why do birds stand on one leg? Because if they didn’t, they’d tip over. It minimizes heat loss, conserves energy and brings comfort. Mr. Miyagi taught the crane kick move in the movie “The Karate Kid.” It was a one-legged karate stance that launched into a flying kick. The gander in the park was striking a martial arts pose.

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Several readers reported headless rabbits in their yards. When folks perform a thorough crime scene investigation, they come up with a list of usual suspects (cat, celebrity chef, Elmer Fudd and Colonel Mustard in the library with a candlestick). I wouldn’t put it past Colonel Mustard. I don’t trust that guy, but I’d guess the culprit was an owl. A great horned owl’s signature method when dealing with large prey is to behead the victim and a study conducted in Kansas found 60% of an owl’s prey items were decapitated. A great horned owl has powerful talons and could cleave a bunny’s head. Rabbit brains and eyes are a delicacy for owls and are full of fats and proteins.

Is the large woodpecker called a PILL-ee-ay-ted, PIE-lee-ay-ted, PEE-lee-ay-ted, PIE-lee-ay-tid, PIE-late-ed, PILL-ee-ay-tid, PAHY-lee-ey-tid, Pie-lay-ted, PEE-lay-ted, PAI-lee-ay-tuhd, PILL-ee-ay-did or a whatchamacallit? A late friend was named Arlene, but I called her Ardy unless I encountered her with her husband, then it was Melvin and Arlene. Both names worked fine. Pileated means having a crest covering the pileum. Pick the name that rolls easiest off your tongue. They aren’t coming when you call them anyway.

A cardinal is territorial and instinctively attacks any other cardinal in its breeding territory and makes an enemy of its own mirrored image in a window. He engages in beak-to-beak combat with himself, becoming his own worst enemy. Covering the inside of a window enhances the reflected image. Drawing the blinds or closing the curtains exacerbates the problem because it makes the window a better mirror. Cover the outside glass with cardboard, paper, soap, painter’s plastic drop cloth or plastic cling wrap. Martha Stewart will shudder and the bird may find imaginary opponents in other windows or mirrors of cars. The birds rarely do themselves great harm. Putting out a replica of an owl doesn’t work.

Does a robin need three snows on its tail before it’s truly spring? Some robins stay here all winter.

Why don’t duck quacks echo? They do echo. Female mallards quack, the drakes don’t. Those guys sound like they’re saying “mean, mean” or “wheat, wheat.”

Is there a squirrel-proof feeder? Yes, but it’s on the shelf of a store owned and operated by a family of Sasquatch.

If you see snow that looked as if someone had stepped on a Smurf, spit out mouthwash or spilled antifreeze, it’s because rabbits fed on the invasive plant buckthorn. This causes them to excrete a chemical in their urine that turns blue when exposed to sunlight. I’ve heard that deer produce blue urine, but I’ve noticed deer avoid eating invasive species like buckthorn, garlic mustard and Japanese barberry. I’d never say they never sample those plants. They likely try them to see if they like them. Every kid had to do that, so why wouldn’t deer? I’m not sure if foraging is deterred because deer find them unappetizing or because buckthorn has thorns. Extreme hunger tosses out the diet rulebook.

But don’t eat the blue snow.

Al Batt’s columns appear in the Tribune every Wednesday.