I bought a couple bird feeders at a yard sale last week. Earlier I bought a couple bird houses, tried to assemble a bluebird house but the instructions buffaloed me so I put that away and set up a bird bath instead. I planted flowers that would attract butterflies but so far all I've attracted is slugs.
The other day I saw a chipmunk slipping around among my plants and flowers. It was so "cute" but when it gets up to its usual mischief, I won't think it cute for long. I like to have birds, butterflies and chippies around my house. And rabbits, even though they eat whatever I plant. Just the other day, however, I saw that one bunny had met its doom on the street beside my house. Such is the fate of wild creatures.
One of my favorite things to do each day is to take my coffee outside with me and walk among my flowers just as day is breaking and deliberately tune my ears to birds that are singing. It is music to me even though I know that most bird-singing is not the cheery trills of contented birds. Most of the time bird and animal communications that we hear are not the twittering of happy little creatures but actual aggressive war songs!
Much bird song is really territorial pronouncements. Ever see two or three smaller birds hassling a big bird - perhaps a crow - as they fly? Bird song is often simply warning noises, intended to tell other birds to go away, that this particular area is already claimed. Ever watch birds squabbling for dominance at a bird feeder?
This doesn't fit with our mental image of birds as sweet innocents who warble at the sunshine. The Ruffed Grouse, our state bird, often drums as a warning to intruders. The drumming, which is actually the sound made when the grouse rapidly fans the air with its wings, is done to attract a mate. But it also serves as a warning to competitors to back off. "This is my log," it says, or "you get lost."
In nature, it is birds that engage in the most spectacular and exhausting mating displays. Males are usually more brightly colored than females. Part of the reason this is so is so they will stand out to the females as they do their various courtship dances.
Male sharp-tailed grouses arch their wings and launch into a stiff-legged maneuver that looks like a cross between a polka and a ballet. Numerous males will congregate at a staging area and compete for the central position. The females wait on the fringes until the males have settled the issue of who gets center stage. It's a crucial jockeying for position because the females choose their mates, not according to which male puts on the most impressive dance but which male ends up in the middle of the pack. A friend told me that he hates it that in the bird world, the males are always making simpletons of themselves over a female. My observation is that the same principle applies in the human world, too.
Among wild creatures, struggles for dominance, territories and breeding rights are constantly being played out.
Most of the bird song you hear falls into one of these categories. Even robins chirping away in the apple trees in the backyard are usually mouthing off about one or more of these things.
Nowhere is this play for dominance and breeding rights more clearly seen than in the spring hunt for gobblers. Hunters have to make themselves sound like the sexiest hen in the territory so the gobbler will lose all his good sense and come running. A hunter who does not know how to intrude himself into the spring gobbler's quest for territory and breeding rights will not be very successful.