wildlife

To Kill a Mockingbird

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In the summer months, birds chatter and chirp all day long and mostly, it’s pleasant background music. White sound.

I hardly notice our barn swallows twittering as they commune on the telephone line. (Though they kick up a clamor when a crow swoops into the barn or a cat slinks by.)

And I don’t mind the bird-brained cardinal who head-butts the hallway window for hours at a time. (The kids call him “Crazy Bird.”)

They’re all fine. It’s the mockingbird that I despise.

Because he never shuts up.

You might believe that a mockingbird sounds nice — trilling through his repertoire of tunes.

And it’s ok… in small doses. But our bird sounds off nonstop, nearly 24 hours a day. With my sleep issues, I’ll often wake to hear his shrill songs. His choice perches are the trees that flank the house. He’s raucous at sunrise, midday when the sun is high, and all through the night.

It borders on noise pollution and some mornings I can’t stop myself from yelling, “Shut Up!” as I cross the yard. He doesn’t miss a beat.

“He sounds like he’s imitating different car alarms,” Martin said one evening, as the bird blared from our magnolia tree.

Apparently, this behavior — unfettered singing all night and day — is normal for unmated males. Females also sing, but they are quieter and less vocal.

Mockingbirds also are intelligent, territorial species. One study found that they can recognize and remember individual people whom they perceive are a threat. They can identify a face in a crowd. (I sure as hell couldn’t tell two mockingbirds apart.)

As for their vocalizations, one website notes that they can imitate more than 30 bird songs in succession, but they also branch out to copy cats, dogs, frogs, squirrels, squeaky brakes, and yes… car alarms.

Apparently fruit is a dietary stable and in those rare moments when our bird isn’t belting out his greatest hits, he’s stuffing his beak with our black raspberries.

Once a male mockingbird finds a mate, his simmers down a bit. I wish this guy would hook up already.

Or take song requests… maybe, “The Sound of Silence.”

The latest update: I sat on this material for 7 to 10 days before publishing it, and since then, our mockingbird has found a girl. He’s now just another bird around the barnyard, and is most vocal when he perches on the telephone line and scolds the cats as they saunter near his nest. 

Racing Homer

Kit of flying pigeons

Last Friday was a weird wildlife day. First, there was the raccoon encounter.

Then a few hours later, the pigeon showed up.

Not a typical pigeon, perched atop the barn cupola or fluttering inside our silo. This one was loitering in the driveway, gazing expectantly at the house. A pigeon with purpose.

Martin and I were packing for a weekend away and were running late, thanks to the raccoon episode. As I snatched the kids’ toothbrushes from the bathroom, I spied the bird out the window. He didn’t appear to be injured; he was standing there, occasionally pacing back and forth in sentry-fashion. Waiting.

“Hey, what’s the deal with that pigeon out there?” I asked Martin.

He watched for a moment. “No idea, but if he stands there much longer, he’s going to be cat food.”

We all headed outside and approached the bird. He wasn’t particularly frightened. He cooed and held his ground until we were in arm’s reach. When we retreated, he’d follow. “Look, he’s got a bracelet,” Brynn said, pointing to the tiny red band around his leg.

I called Chet, our neighbor and local birder. (Poor Chet, he’d already received a dozen calls from us concerning the raccoon.) Regarding the bird he proffered this: “Try to catch him — he probably won’t peck you — and read the number on his band. Then throw him in the air to help him fly away.”

I relayed these instructions to Martin who stared blankly at me. “You want me to do what? Are you serious?”

“Come on,” I said. “After roping a raccoon, catching a pigeon’s a piece of cake.”

As you’ll see in the video below, efforts to collect said pigeon were unsuccessful. And since we left shortly thereafter, I don’t know what happened to him. But the banded bird spurred my curiosity and yielded the following trivia:

Did you know that pigeon racing is a sport, with supporting organizations like the American Racing Pigeon Union and the National Pigeon Association? I’ve never heard of such a thing.

A “Racing Homer” is a pigeon selectively bred for speed and homing instinct, both critical to pigeon racing. Competitions range from 100 to several hundred miles in distance, and “good” homers can sustain 60 mph for hours and reach speeds of 110 mph. Those who breed them are called “pigeon fanciers.”

Want to learn more? I’m sure you do. Schedule a visit to the American Pigeon Museum in Oklahoma City. Really, it exists.

Our winged visitor might’ve been a race participant who lost his (or her) way. Or perhaps he was taking a breather from his charted course.

Who knows? He gave us the Heisman when we tried to help.

 

(For you email subscribers, if the video does not appear in your blog post, copy this link into your web browser: http://youtu.be/s9VIUfN3ukE)

 

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Wrangling Wildlife

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I thought we’d weathered the storm of bad luck. The deer-car collisions, the lice infestation, failing household appliances and leaky pipes.

We’re done, I thought.

Then a raccoon waddled into the mudroom.

It was last Friday morning. I’d just returned from dropping the kids at camp when I saw the raccoon at the mudroom threshold. He stumbled in like a drunk — taking a stutter-step and falling against the door frame — before lurching forward.

Oh, shit, I thought.

A raccoon in the daytime is certainly sick. And this one? Rabid and in the “furious” stage: disoriented, uncoordinated, and biting everything in sight. He approached the first pair of shoes — my sneakers — and sunk his teeth into the spongey fabric, tearing away the heel.

I watched from a distance, feeling vulnerable in flip flops and bare legs. When he moved to the next pair — Hadley’s rain boots — I snapped to action, and sprinted for Martin’s office.

 

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Those are done, let’s try these…

 

Martin was on a business call; I scrawled a note: rabid raccoon in mudroom, EATING shoes!

“Oh crap,” Martin said, surveying the scene. “No, no! Not my good hiking boots!” he shouted, clapping his hands and pounding on the window. The raccoon was unresponsive.

I called Animal Control and then phoned our gun-owning neighbors. But they weren’t home. I ran through options; Martin nixed them.

Open the kitchen door and shove him out with a barn pitchfork? Too risky, he might attack the pitchfork and run inside the house.

String the garden hose through the window and spray him? Likely to soak all of our shoes and miss the mark.

Eventually Martin retrieved a thick, yellow rope we use for tubing. “I’m going to lasso him,” Martin announced, “and pull him out of the mudroom.”

That sounded like a terrible idea — inconceivable, impossible to execute — but Martin was determined. While he fashioned a loop, I monitored the animal’s chewing choices. When the raccoon sunk his teeth into expensive footwear, I’d hurl something at him from the porch — an empty milk crate, a citronella candle, a tube of sun block. The raccoon would pause, mildly dazed, then growl before sinking his teeth into something else.

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…like Maisie’s empty dog dish.

 

Much to my surprise, Martin’s wrangling worked. He had to stand dangerously close to the raccoon and the rope slipped off several times. But finally, he hooked the raccoon’s leg and dragged him, hissing and spitting, out of the room. (Note: The raccoon retreated under a boxwood and we lost sight of him while pulling a curious cat from the scene.)

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Raccoon removal

 

Eventually Animal Control arrived. Apparently, an emergency call reporting “a rabid raccoon in the house,” elicits a 90-minute response rate. 

The animal control guy admonished us for having barn cats — “as long as you’re feeding them outside, you’re gonna have critters.” 

Then he told us to get a gun.

Actually, he said, “I strongly urge you to purchase a firearm. A 20-gauge will do you fine. And right now, they’re on sale at Walmart.”

Well, great, I thought. Let’s add that to the shopping list: orange juice, butter, bananas and a 20-gauge shotgun.

Hopefully Walmart’s got shoes on sale, too.

A few pairs were mortally wounded in action.

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