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TERRITORIAL WARS

Here, in Upstate New York, we have entered the time of year when it is possible and even delicious, to get into audio fisticuffs with tiny songbirds. I'm talking the noisy little feather-rats that permeate the spring air. As a longtime birdwatcher and a person who practices bird calls, I know the calls--especially the springtime territorial calls of these little friends. Cardinals, robins, bluebirds, even tiny chickadees, you name it. You start imitating their calls, and you will have a furious male bird in your face this time of year.

For instance, there is a very loud male cardinal now calling out to prospective mates that he's building the absolute BEST nest in the world, and that nest happens to be near my domicile. "Tchwoooeee, tchwoooeee, whoeeeoouuu, whoooeeeoouuu, whoooeeeoouuu" sez he. And he is LOUD. So I go out on my front porch, and just to be persnickity, I sez "Tchwoooeee, tchwoooeee, whoeeeoouuu, whoooeeeoouuu, whoooeeeoouuu."

So he comes over to check out his competition. I'm not really interested in female cardinals, and I respect his desire for them, but I can't resist a good fight, which we had. He came as close as he dared, looked me over, and did his personal best in the birdcalling category. He was good. He was definitely gonna get a mate.

In all honesty, I lost, though I kept him busy for about a half an hour. He had a much better call than me, although I'm pleased to say my call was good enough to get him going. I had him in the tree in my yard, yelling his little head off, which was fun. Cardinals seem to be the most territorial, the most aggressive about exactly who the hell you're dealing with, pal--so they're the most fun. In your face, territorial songbird war. Harmless, but invigorating, I'd say.

I hope everyone takes the time to go outside, whistle to the birds, listen to their songs, howl at the full moon.

Life, after all, isn't only about Territorial Wars. Songbirds wage it every year, without bloodshed. Perhaps we could learn a thing or two, though I doubt the human species' ability to learn much of anything ...


Patricia Neill 1999




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22 April, 1999