My Good Friends, The Crazies
I don’t mean to mislead with my title, even though I have in the past had a penchant for drawing people to me who have significant psychological issues, this post is about birds. It is about two birds to be exact: a pair of Northern Mockingbirds who I have been friends with for about six or seven years now. Northern Mockingbirds, as I have come to learn, are a prevalent occupant of many North American cities; however, I had never come across a Mockingbird until the fateful summer I met “The Crazies”. If one were to run a quick Google search on this species of bird one would find such phrases as: “The Northern Mockingbird enjoys making its presence known.” or “These slender-bodied gray birds apparently pour all their color into their personalities”. Also appearing in the search results, is a 2009 study demonstrating how Mockingbirds recognize particular human beings (and attack them)!
I knew nothing of any of this before my first encounter with the dynamic duo of Mockingbirds who would later become my friends. My introduction into Mockingbird theatrics initially involved the male half of the pair and our friendship started as any serendipitous beginning might. At the time, I had an indoor cat who loved to go outside but since we lived in the city, that made it too dangerous for her to roam freely. So as a compromise, I often would take her for short walks when time allowed and when the weather wasn’t too hot. It may sound strange to walk a cat but she never wandered too far and seemed to enjoy my tagging along. Anyhow, one summer day as we were strolling about in the grassy area behind our condo we were interrupted
by a dive bomb of feathers, a blur of a bird who then proceeded to hop along the ground, directly in front of my cat as if to say (and I imagined this in a Brooklyn accent): “You wanna piece of me?? Huh?? HUH???!!!” My initial reaction was laughter but that shortly turned to deep concern for the welfare of this little creature as the display continued. Indeed, my “indoor kitty” would like a piece of him. She would have had no qualms about pouncing on his little body just for the thrill of it; but there he was, nonetheless, bouncing excitedly right in front of her. So I did what any normal (??) person would do and tried to talk some sense into the little guy: “You crazy bird. This is a cat. She is going to EAT you. She is WAY bigger than you. She has fangs. She has claws. You have none of these things.” But he ignored my warnings relentlessly so I, for his own safety and my own emotional well-being, took my cat back indoors.
In the days that followed, whether I was walking the dogs to the pet run or returning to the condo from errands, I continued to see this crazy little bird. He didn’t really care who he dive bombed. He dive bombed dogs, children, cars, and much like the Honey Badger, he just “didn’t care”. By this time, I was intrigued, because not only was this bird willing to put his life on the line in order to (I presumed) protect his nest, when he flew away, he had the most glorious white striped wings, he was in fact a beautiful bird. This paired with his larger than life personality prompted me to discern what type of bird he was and what his habits and preferences might be.
I don’t have any good photos of a mockingbird in flight, but this photographer does. Be sure to check out his post: http://www.featheredphotography.com/blog/2014/05/04/northern-mockingbird-flight-display/
After a bit of digging, I discovered that this creature was a Northern Mockingbird. I learned that he most likely ate a varied omnivorous diet of bugs and berries. Since I was a little short on bugs, but ate blueberries and bananas with my Cheerios every morning, I figured I’d try to see if this crazy little bird might take a liking to my breakfast. He most certainly did. In fact, of all the food experiments I have
tried on him since (bananas, apples, raspberries, strawberries, grapes, corn bread, seeds, granola bars, white bread) blueberries continue to be his favorite. It wasn’t long before Crazy (as he came to be called) became rather accustomed to the routine involving the strange human in Unit 235 coming down to feed him blueberries. He became so accustomed that he began to recognize my car and my condo and would fly over when I called him. This was a huge delight to the neighborhood children (and even some of the adults) to see a wild bird that came when his name was called. Then, at other times, he would be waiting for me, rather impatiently, flying up my stairwell and flapping his wings all around my head, you know, just in case I didn’t see him. One of his favorite maneuvers was to fly close to my head, perch staunchly on a nearby object and give me an expectant eye. I always imagined him saying (again in a Brooklyn accent): “Aaaay! It’s your boy!”
Soon after our routine began, I started to notice another Mockingbird. She was almost indistinguishable from Crazy other than being smaller but she was much more quiet and demur, with an adorable little sneeze (it must be bird allergies). I quickly realized that this was Crazy’s partner, his “wife” and whereas Crazy was bold and demanding, Mrs. Crazy was much more polite and wary. Crazy was: “GIVE ME A BLUEBERRY, NOW!!”; Mrs. Crazy was: “Oh if it wouldn’t be too much trouble, I’d really love one of those blueberries, they are rather delicious.” So, soon I was feeding both Mockingbirds and was able to watch as they raised a number of offspring. Their busiest year saw about 6 different babies in two batches of three each.
Watching the pair raise young ones was also very fascinating. At the beginning of the hatching, it seemed to me that Mrs. Crazy did a disproportionate amount of work. I would chastise Mr. Crazy as I watched his poor ragged wife desperately trying to feed all of those hungry little beaks. Then something rather fascinating happened, the little ones started flying and it was no longer Mrs. Crazy who was doing all of the feeding. It was Crazy! When I read up on this bizarre change of events, I realized that it was normal Mockingbird behavior, that it is dad who teaches the young ones how to fly. It was a job Crazy was MADE for. I watched as he would swoop in close with a blueberry, tease his youngster with it, and then fly off to a nearby tree that was just far enough away for the young one to fly to. I have, on more than one occasion, noted that this pair of birds has a partnership that most humans would be quite envious of.
Nowadays, the babies come a little less frequently. Crazy doesn’t dive bomb with the same level of intensity and this year, I have only seen one baby. I know this can only mean one thing, that the birds are getting close to the retirement age and that my time with them may be dwindling. I have read that Northern Mockingbirds live to be around 8 years old in the wild, which is probably close to the age of my two companions. I have also read however, that in captivity, the birds have been known to live to be 20 years old. I am hoping that if I split the difference this will mean that I have a few years left with The Crazies and have at least a few more lessons to learn from them. Until the time comes when I no longer see the expectant faces in the morning (and afternoon and evening), I will continue to enjoy Crazy and his theatrics and commiserate with “the missus” when she comes in behind him to apologize for her husband’s behavior.