don't judge a bird by it's feathers...
Once again, to our immense pleasure, fledges abound in our backyard. (for a current count visit our homepage at www.backyardbirdadventures.com). Although birds have existed for thousands of years without us, I can’t help feeling a little pleased that our fantastic bird buffet has contributed to the abundant and diverse procreation in the trees. I should explain that we don’t take pictures all day. Currently, we have a couple of bedrooms as well as the office on the second floor of the house, near the windows and doors that can view the bird feeders and surrounding trees. Aside from first thing in the morning, typically we go about our business and just keep a camera within arms reach. This behavior works most of the time, but I will admit there are some days during homeschooling or work that we have to shut the blinds and curtains because of the distractions, but with it being summer, those days are rare.
With the young birds visiting our trees and often staying all day, I become more of a Mom and fret about their well-being. It is not that I believe God needs me to look out for them but more that I don’t want my seed or my feeders to bring harm upon them. Unwanted visitors to the feeder further exacerbate my feelings. Some of you may remember last year we had multiple visits from the Cooper’s Hawk to the actual feeder area. He visited so much that we considered taking the feeder down until he moved on. The birds, however, got very good at engaging in “Mobbing behavior.” I have NEVER seen him with a bird in his talons, nor have I ever seen him successfully capture anything; however, I was not pleased when he returned last week multiple days in a row. The Mockingbirds, Grackles, and Blue Jays led the charge in “Mobbing,” him. The Blue Jays sound the alarm (and they are always right because even when our blinds are closed if we run over to the window, the Hawk is around somewhere). The Mockingbirds and Grackles will charge the Hawk, next the little birds and the Crows nearby will fly-in and hassle him too. (See my July 10, 2019 blog: The Enemy of My Enemy is My Friend). I just keep telling myself that maybe he is garnering other prey. As most of you know, we live in an older neighborhood, so there is no shortage of vermin that he could snatch. Additionally, though we sweep every day, birdseed can sometimes attract those other creatures, and as bias as it is, I am fine with the Hawk grabbing one of those, especially if it means he leaves the birds alone.
As I said, the Mockingbirds are instrumental in our Hawk deterrent program. They have been with us from when I first put up the feeder at this house, but initially would not come near us or the feeder. They preferred to steal tomatoes out of Essie’s garden. It used to infuriate Abby too as she could only get a glimpse of them from a distance, and when she did, they would turn around so she only could get a picture of their rear-end. After a while, they ended up coming to the feeder every couple of days. This lurking behavior continued for a while, but then eventually they and their two surviving fledges from asynchronous broods last year began to come daily. We do not believe their nest is in our yard, but it IS located this year in a different place than the two years previously. Mockingbirds often change nests and can even change nests in the middle of a year, actually raising same year subsequent broods in different locations. In general, some of you might not like Mockingbirds, as they have a horrible reputation for aggressiveness towards humans, house pets, and other birds. Interestingly enough, we haven’t seen this escalated behavior at our feeder. The Mockingbirds ARE aggressive to get the worms but NO more vigorous than the Blue Jays, House Sparrows, or Red-bellied Woodpeckers.
Sometimes, I think their appearance aides in their reputation. If you look closely at our pictures of the Mockingbirds, they don’t have “sweet or cute” face. Their beak curves ever so slightly downward, sometimes giving them what might be mistaken for a menacing appearance. Like most Mockingbirds, “Ours,” in particular, the male is VERY vocal. This vocalization is usually in the form of a song. Not only can they sing many songs during the day AND occasionally at night, but they make less pleasing sounds. Ours will mimic toads and even Abby’s beep-beep of her car alarm setting. They make a particularly odd sound when I come out to fill the feeders each morning while they sit nearby in the tree, immediately flying to the feeders the second I finish. Needless to say, I haven’t disliked them ever or become concerned by their reputation for bad behavior, until one day last week.
When I wake up, I make coffee and fill up the bird feeders (the order in which I do this depends entirely on whether the Blue Jays are squawking on my railing for food). I also put out one mouthwash cup of meal-worms per day (during nesting season or when they line up outside the sliding doors, I might relent and give them two cups). After this, I do my devotions, drink my (two) cups of coffee, and watch the birds for a few minutes each morning. This particular day, while I was enjoying my coffee and watching the birds, the Mockingbirds for the first time began an “Arcing Tackle Assault,” on the other birds. One Mockingbird would stand by the Meal-worms (in the middle of the railing balcony) while the other Mockingbird would disappear below the left-hand side of the balcony railing. When a bird would land on the railing to eat the Meal-worms, the Mockingbird who had disappeared on the left side would fly an almost perfect 180-degree arc (low and long) up from the left side, barely over the railing, and straight at the bowl, tackling the bird on the meal-worm bowl down to the ground. His mate waiting on the other end of the railing, would hop over, take some meal-worms, and leave only to return a few minutes later and wait again. They did this coordinated assault multiple times, and I was flabbergasted. At that moment, Abby came in, and I told her what happened, adding that I think we needed to run over to Lowes to get some hanging baskets. I thought if I hung baskets on the left, it would at least block the Mockingbirds from one element of their attack, the surprise factor. The birds on the bowl did not see him coming since he flew straight up and over the railing. Of course, Abby reminded me that we try not to interfere, etc. but I was very annoyed at my normally well-behaved pair and would not be dissuaded. A few minutes later, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a bird at the top of the tree. I only saw this bird because it fell off the branch, righted itself, and fell off again. After looking through the camera lens, it appeared that this was a fledge. Well, that was interesting! Our first Mockingbird fledge of this season.
A few minutes later, I hear a great cacophony of cries and looked up into the tree. Now there were THREE Mockingbird fledges! Oh oops, that might explain the behavior. Interestingly enough, behavior differs among birds. In Mockingbirds, both the female and male have a mutual selection/participation in the process of choosing a mate. Mutual selection is rare in the birding world. In addition, “High nesting success is associated with highly aggressive males attacking intruders in the territory, and so these males are preferred by females.” 1. (Breitwisch, R., 1986) Aggressiveness is preferred. Though they are monogamous, if, during the breeding season, the female determines that the male is not providing “a high enough level of care, which includes feeding and nest defense,” she can decide to change mates. 1.(Breitwisch, R., 1986) So, not only is aggressiveness welcomed, it is desired. Therefore, it makes sense that their aggressiveness increases when the nestlings were newly fledged and hanging around. Given the high mortality rate for fledges, their behavior all made sense to me. Of course, I felt badly for making snap judgments regarding same. Interestingly, the fledges have been back every day since, and the Mockingbirds adults have NEVER once repeated this interesting “180-degree tackling maneuver.” I think I know why they did this on that particular day, but that is for another time.
In addition to part-time birdwatching, occasionally, we go on bird field trips. Last week, Abby and I went on a spontaneous bird field trip to Huntington Beach State Park (HBSP). Aside from the Roseate Spoonbills, we went to see, on the Causeways we saw some Barn Swallows both nesting and flying around.
Being from a big city originally, this is the first time I got a super great look at Swallows. As a young girl, I saw them at my grandmother's house, and later bird trips but never so many and so close. We, of course, attempted to take pictures of them sitting and in-flight; though we understand due to their speed and size, flight pictures are very hard to capture.
Of course, not having the ideal lens did not deter us from snapping pictures. (We tend to use more all-purpose zoom lenses, i.e., one that can do relatively close along with some zooming but ends up being just ok, even very poor when we begin zooming in a lot). While we long for the gigantic telephoto lens, it is not going to happen any time soon due to the price point. Nonetheless, we did get a few decent pictures of their tiny, violet-blue, and orange round heads peeking up out of the nest. Their faces were very adorable.
We also got a couple of pictures of them in flight. As is our norm, after returning home, we looked up information on barn swallows. Then it happened. As we read, buried in the seemingly unending lines of facts about these cute, tiny, pudgy, quick, colorful fliers, Abby read it. “Unmated male Barn Swallows may kill the nestlings of a nesting pair. His actions often succeed in breaking up the pair and affords him the opportunity to mate with the female.” 2. (Cornell Labs, All about Birds, Barn Swallow: Cool Facts). What? This colorful unmated male Swallow murders the NESTLINGS with the sole purpose of getting to mate with the female he wants. Ugg, not cool. Guess this tiny guy is not so fantastic.
So far, we have the medium-sized dull gray and white Mockingbirds, whose crime of aggressiveness toward what they perceive at predators or threats to their territory/nest/fledges food has garnered a well-known reputation for bad behavior. On the other side, we have a beautifully colored, tiny, adorable, chubby bird, half the size of the Mockingbirds whose desire to mate often means it kills helpless nestlings to ensure his procreation with the female mate of his choosing. No one talks about that! Like bird appearances, people's appearances can be very deceiving and are often wrong. Maybe the guy who never jokes is really just very serious, not sad. The woman who won’t talk to you is not a snob but is really shy. The older man who always has something to say is not necessarily a know-it-all, but loves knowledge and is just innocently nerdy. Trust me; I could go on. Maybe this is why God is truly the only being with the ability to judge fairly. “Man looks on the outward appearance; God looks at the heart.”
Experiences are personal and perception is the key. For years I have cautioned the kids with what may seem like a very ambiguous phrase. “Everyone has something, try not to judge a person because you don’t know what their 'Something,' is and you don’t know how it affects them.” For our family, this "Something," is decidedly a negative. I believe everyone will have some type of negative experience in their life. Understand, though, that my idea of a negative experience and your idea of a negative experience might be two vastly different things. It is all about perception. Hence this is the problem. I might not perceive your life-path altering negative experience as a “real” problem, but IT IS to you; IF you view it as that. This is where compassion and empathy come in. So I still maintain, we all have something or will have something that, to us is negative and life-altering, which will ultimately shape us as a person. Additionally, I am convinced that aside from knowing someone has a “Something” in their life is not enough. We can never genuinely EVER really know how an experience has affected someone. Sometimes the person who had the experience, doesn't even know how it has shaped them. You and I could have the same, “Something,” and it will affect both of us differently. This means that no matter what, we can’t and shouldn’t judge that person based on what WE perceive. The girls poke fun at me because, in the course of sharing stories of my upbringing, I share one about walking to school in south Florida in the 80's. According to them, every time I tell the story, I make it sound progressively worse. Nearing the conclusion of one of these retold stories, Abby cut me off and finished it by saying, “Yes Mom, we know! You walked to school, carrying your violin, and lugging your enormous 50 lb book-bag, in hot polyester skirts, uphill both ways, through the blinding snow in Florida!” Ha-ha, not entirely, but this is a good example. At times this is what it “felt” like to me. It is about perception. Now, I am not discounting the negative aspects of childhood that some people experience which we would all agree and are statistically shown to be definitely life-altering or decidedly negative: incest, abandonment, abuse, rape, poverty, etc. I am trying to say that it shouldn’t matter whether we agree it is traumatic or not. We don’t have the right to judge a person or their trauma whatsoever. Titus 3:2- To speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, [but] gentle, shewing all meekness unto all men.
Behavior taken out of context is almost ALWAYS misinterpreted, and our own experiences cloud the interpretation. Last week, I judged the Mockingbirds (Mockies) negatively after “knowing” them for two years and after only seeing a few minutes of “bad behavior. Why, possibly because I had preconceived knowledge regarding them. Could it be that over the last few years when I mentioned the Mockies to others, I always got a negative reaction which eventually clouded my judgment? So, despite knowing better, I made a snap judgment, shaped by what people said to me about Mockingbirds, and subsequently was ready to jump right in with my own “superior,” judgmental fix. So too, not only do we make judgments about others but too often the judgments other people make and communicate to us (usually NOT wholly supported by an abundance of facts) also shape our thoughts about a person. This is especially true if their judgments or assumptions reinforce our own silent feelings about someone. Isn’t it funny that this is almost universally negative? I wonder what would happen if maybe despite your own misgivings, the next time someone sidles up to you and tells you something negative about another person instead of responding in kind, you say, “Hmm, wow, I don’t think that can be true. She/he seems nice. I have never seen her/him _______________.” Try it. I’d bet a week of birdseed the person spreading the negative judgment will snap their mouth shut almost immediately, stammer for their next words, or change their tone entirely. Not only is behavior taken out of context is almost always misinterpreted. I think we have ALL had our behavior grossly misinterpreted even in context when all of the facts were not known. The difference is that some of us are given the benefit of the doubt, and others are not. This is in direct contradiction to what God tells us. Luke 6:37 – “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven.”
Judging others silently or even not silently might be a part of our human nature, but it doesn’t have to be. Just like I jumped in to try to create a solution to fix the mockingbird behavior, so too do we often jump in judge and formulate a solution to fix other people. Remember, everyone has something, even YOU! When you see a glimpse of what you think is someone's “Something” ….pray for them, show kindness, help them, or just overlook it. Do you really know the whole story? Probably not. Do you really need to know?
After all, sometimes the best of us look like the plain gray Mockingbirds with the downward tilting beaks, flying a kamikaze mission at perceived threats to their babies existence with zero regards for their own safety. Sometimes, the worst of us are self-centered murderers outfitted in adorable, brightly adorned Swallow packages. Stop trying to figure out and fix which are which. Love all, forgive all, and trust that ONLY God knows for sure, and that’s the way it should be!
ALL PICTURES ON THIS SITE WERE TAKEN ONLY BY ABBY, CJ OR ME. WITH THE EXCEPTION OF THE PHOTOS ON THE BIRDING FIELD TRIP PAGE, ALL PICTURES HAVE ALL BEEN TAKEN IN OUR URBAN BACKYARD/TREES, OR IN THE SKY AND TREES ABOVE OUR HOUSE/NEIGHBORHOOD FROM 2018 TO THE PRESENT. WE ARE USUALLY BIRDING EVERYDAY BUT ARE ALSO USUALLY BEHIND UPLOADING PICTURES.
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