Bird Brawls

by Tina Blue
May 15, 2005

    Chirp, chirp. Tweet, tweet.

    Birdsong--how sweet.

    Or so it seems.

          But the truth is that when those birds are singing up in their trees, they are doing two things:

          ~Trying to attract a mate ("Hey, Baby! These are my digs. Cool, huh? Why don't you come on up and share a little worm with me?)

          ~Warning off competitors (Hey, Sucker! Stay back! You keep comin' 'round here, I'm gonna kick your nether-feathers!!)

    I knew this, of course. I am not scientifically illiterate. And yet every spring, my heart warmed to the sweet sound of birdsong. Since I never saw any birds actually kicking any other birds' nether-feathers, it was easy to think of birds as charming, friendly, carefree cartoon animals that spend most of their time sitting on the wrists and shoulders of lovely cartoon princesses.

          But my eyes have been opened to the brutal belligerence of these miniature hooligans.

          One morning about a month ago I was almost late to class because I couldn't tear myself away from the spectacle of two birds going at it as violently as any street thugs. Their attacks on each other often turned them into a tight feathered ball rolling down an incline. Then they'd back off for just a second, before once more throwing themselves at each other so hard that only their feathers prevented me from hearing the thud.

          After a few minutes, one of the combatants had clearly gained the upper hand---um, wing--and the other decided to retreat.

          But the mighty warrior wasn't having any of that! No way he was going to let his opponent escape to fight another day, at least not if he could help it.  So he pursued the fleeing foe, catching up to administer yet another brutal beating. Several times the loser retreated, and several times he was brought down on the wing to suffer another sound thrashing. Finally the two flew beyond my sight range, so I went on to class without knowing the final outcome of the duel. Would the battle be a fight to the death? I don't know, but what I know of Mother Nature tells me the odds are not in favor of the defeated bird's survival.

          I hadn't thought about this incident again until this morning, when I heard a lot of noise outside my bedroom window, a window positioned fairly near a very large tree that is occupied every year by troops of birds.  ("Troops" is the operative word here, by the way.)

          I leapt out of bed to see what was going on. This was no mere single combat. There must have been a dozen or more birds involved in this altercation! In fact, I believe I was witnessing the avian equivalent of a gang war. Just as gangs fight over control of territories, so too were these birds obviously aligned as two tiny armies, battling for territory and resources.

          And as with the battle I had witnessed earlier this spring, no quarter was given. These birds meant business, and when the losing side tried to retreat, the winners pursued them mercilessly. As before, they eventually flew beyond my sight range, so I don't know what happened to the losing army.

          But the winners are all out there right now, singing.

          Chirp, chirp. Tweet, tweet.

          Have you ever seen Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds?

          Maybe someone should warn Snow White.

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