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Avian Antics





Sometimes there seems to be nothing to write about. Eric Nicol, a humourist and the late columnist with the Vancouver Province said “If all you have is garbage, give them your best garbage”. We also know that sex sells so sprinkle some of that in the garbage and you have a column. Perhaps it would be wise to rip this page from the magazine right now and don’t let your mother see it.

The rites of spring are upon us. They are being observed by birds and animals all around us. What did you think I was going to write about? People have decided to be “civilized” and no longer observe these rites in public. Our ancestors did. The ancient Brits use to roll around together in the fields to promote crop fertility. Then along came Queen Victoria and other institutions and spoiled everybody’s fun. Birds especially were not influenced by the Queen and perform their rituals for all to see.

The first to get started are the flickers. In early March they start drumming with their beaks on anything that makes a satisfying noise such as various parts of your house. Then they will wake you at dawn with their long cackling cry. Is this racket-that will go on for months-to establish territory or to attract chicks? The starlings are already thinking of nesting and are poking around in my flicker box. I have given up trying to keep them out. They move in way before the flickers have formalized their relationships and are ready to get down to business.

I have noticed that the varied thrushes do not whistle their clear single note to each other until early March. There are two pairs that come to our feeder and they got along fine all winter. Now they chase each other whenever they meet.

The house sparrow or English sparrow was introduced by colonists in the New York area and they have spread over most of North and South America. One of the reasons for their success is that they behave in a very un-English like manner and breed a lot. The males decide very early in the year that the nest should be built and starts to harass the females. He is permitted to do the grunt work, like carrying the nest material. Then the missus takes over and does the decorating. Mr. Sparrow then follows his mate everywhere, doing a silly dance that is supposed to turn her on. He spreads his tail, pirouettes and chirps incessantly. She will get exasperated and turn on him, pull his tail and give him a severe thrashing. Eventually she gives in and they mate. After the kids are out of the nest, he immediately starts his routine again. This way they can get three nests done in a season. You have probably seen pigeons doing much the same thing…the male puffing up his chest and dancing all around a disinterested female. Men eh! It is all they think about?

Have you ever seen two pileated woodpeckers chase each other around the trunk of a tree? This “getting to know you” ritual is very funny to watch. Bald eagles clenching and spiraling down from the sky are spectacular. I don’t know if they are mating or fighting. It looks like fighting but who knows. Have you ever wondered how hummingbirds manage?

It is easy to anthropomorphize (there’s that word again) about crows. They will sit on a wire or branch and rub beaks and nuzzle like a couple of teenagers who have discovered what fun it is.

The common loon lives up to its name this time of year. There is great deal of strutting and dancing which is fascinating to watch as it is done on the water. Then they chase each other (probably males chasing off other males) for hours. I have never seen the grebes do their mating dance except on TV but I imagine that those who live on the waterfront in Saltair can get a good look with binoculars. It is a spectacular and bizarre ritual. The boys rear up with outstretched wings, long necks and heads pointed skyward and run on the water. The girls seem to be impressed.
Pheromones are in the air. Please try to be civilized. But then to heck with the Queen. Go for it.

About the author: Rob Pinkerton

Rob Pinkerton