Thursday, September 08, 2005

Nature - On the Back Porch

For several years now, we've had bird feeders around our house. Recently we've had an interesting bird visiting. When I first saw him, I thought he was a juvenile, because his flight was irratic. He flew almost like a cartoon bird - never straight toward his destination. There were times when we wondered if he was going to make it to his destination. At times he hovered much like a hummingbird, but not as effortlessly. When Henry got a closer look, his feathers were in bad shape and his eyes looked almost blind. He was a regular visitor to the feeder so I felt like this feeder was probably keeping him going.

This morning while sitting in my living room I saw a much larger shadow on the back porch. While I caught the action out of the corner of my eye, I could tell something momentous had occurred. We have roadrunners in the yard - and we had one now on the back porch - with a bird in its mouth. I was astonished, because I did not realize roadrunners ate birds! The roadrunner had jumped up to the feeder (4-5 feet off the ground) to get his meal. When I first saw the situation the smaller bird was probably still alive, but damaged. I watched the roadrunner briefly before he disappeared with his prey further into the yard and out of site. The smaller bird was no longer moving with feathers disarrayed.

Perhaps I'm tendered hearted, but I'm pretty sure it was our weak bird. I allowed myself a few moments of grief for this handicapped bird. It is a fact of nature that it is the weak and injured animals that are the easiest prey. But it is also part of human nature to protect the weak and helpless.

I had always assumed that roadrunners ate insects. But Henry did some research this morning after the fact - they eat insects, small rodents, small birds, baby birds and small snakes. Since we found baby rattlesnakes right by the house last month, I'm still glad we have roadrunners in the yard. I had also been glad when I realized that my bird feeding had attracted a Cooper's hawk to the yard on a regular basis, realizing that Cooper's hawks feed on smaller birds. A mystery to me is why I was more disappointed about the roadrunner's feeding than I would have been had it been the hawk. But I think it was because the victim this time was an individual bird we had connected with on an emotional level - an underdog we were rooting for.


Henry Melton said...

Yes, a day later, and Woodstock is nowhere to be found, so I have to believe he's gone. I didn't see the Event as well as Mary Ann, but it certainly revised my mental image of Road Runners.

Woodstock's flying had to be seen to be believed. He was a little gray bird, like so many others here, but whether approaching the bird feeder, or the water fountain, he hovered, not like any others of his kind, and certainly not like a hummingbird. His flight was always erratic. The one time I crept up close as he was concentrating on the seed cylinder in the feeder, it was sad to see how much was wrong with him. I suspect he was blind in his right eye, and his feathers were of uneven lengths. After that, I was amazed that he had been able to fly at all.

Chris Nystrom said...

Wow. Were you ever able to determine what kind of bird he was?

I think we put with animals as if they were humans, and a bird like that that is just struggling to exist, brings out the root for the underdog effect, and it is sad when it ends.

Mary Ann Melton said...

Yes, our "Woodstock" bird was a finch -overall gray with a pale breast with streaks on the breast. Before the roadrunner episode, we saw him regularly at the feeder and getting a drink from the waterfall on the pool. We have not seen him since. :(

And yes, we root for the underdog, but also when you have something that identifies one individual bird from the rest, you also get attached. We don't know whether he was simply an elderly bird, or one born with birth defects. The first year I put out the feeders, we had a male finch that had something wrong with one eye. It took awhile for me to identify him because I always saw him in silhouette against the sky and the eye injury changed his silhouette. He also moved a little differently, more like a quail. When I finally got a photo of him, he had the shape and red markings of a house finch, but he had this crusted area around his eye. He flew much better than Woodstock.