Rats, with and without wings

There was a brief showdown on the feeder between those two ground feeding giants, the mourning dove and the rat. The dove is larger. The rat is smarter, and probably heavier. Showdown!

It is a well-fed, chunky rat, carefully groomed, and a fairly polite visitor to the feeder. It comes only when hardly anybody is there. It will not tangle with the squirrels. It flees immediately if I approach, bounding down the steps. I assume it lives under the deck. That’s fine. The rat may live under the deck provided it does not seek entry to the house. And really, you don’t get the impression that the rat is a coward, or nervous in the sense that many of the birds are nervous, nor even particularly shy–the rat seems more polite, and not inclined to bother anyone. He is not interested in conflict. He does not move like a bird, who responds to any movement with panicked flight, nor like the squirrel, who thinks it has every right to be there, but doesn’t quite trust you. The rat is more like a concientious upholder of a social contract–somewhere it is written that when people are about, the rat must vacate the premises, and the rat obliging holds up his end of the bargain. Not unlike maid service at a hotel*, his goal is to be unobtrusive, efficient, and generally unnoticed. He doesn’t want to barge in on anyone.

He is a little bolder approaching the neighbor’s feeder–a big cylinder, the ground underneath is covered in a thick layer of sunflower shells, and occasional seeds, through which the doves and cardinals and towhees and white-throated sparrows pick, and the rat will occasionally join them. It’s a large enough space that everybody is willing to just stick to their own little patch and exist in a brief opportunistic harmony.

My platform feeder, however, is small, and thus has scarcity, and also the only source of safflower in the immediate vicinity. So the dove was bopping around eating, and the rat approached cautiously. Would the dove perhaps mind sharing the feeder? It could have that side, and the rat would take this side. Doable?

The dove was not amicable to this idea, and puffed itself up, wings half-spread menacingly.

Come now. There’s no need for this. We’re all buddies here. Rats don’t eat doves. Well…not the big healthy ones. Not when there’s plenty of safflower for everybody.

Dove was unimpressed.

Rat dropped under the feeder. Perhaps he could simply graze underneath? Out of sight, out of mind?

Dove definitely didn’t want Rat where he couldn’t see him.

Hmm. Rat eyed dove. Dove eyed Rat. Dove is practically a pigeon, and thus almost an honorary rat. Surely they could all get along, out of professional courtesy.

Dove spreak his wings even wider. Human watching this showdown is conscious of the irony of the symbol of peace being a jerk.

Rat considers. Really, he’s tried to be polite. And what is Dove going to DO about it, anyway? He stands on his hind legs, leans on the feeder, and begins eating.

Dove stamps tiny red feet and spreads his wings until they’re almost unfurled. Rat ignores him, shovelling safflower into his face at a good clip. Dove gazes at Rat with round black eyes, the tiny cogs inside Dove’s brain stripping and grinding to a halt. Fight or flight mechanisms, finely tuned to respond to a threat, falter in the face of something small, not making any threatening moves, but steadfastly refusing to be frightened.

Dove pulls out the Big Guns, inhales, and fluffs all his breast feathers up savagely. Any females in the area would doubtless swoon with lust. Rat is unimpressed, and prefers other rats for that sort of thing anyway.

Driven to the edge of madness, Dove prepares to fluff even more, to perhaps push the boundaries of what feather fluffing can accomplish, to drive fluffing into the red zone, when Rat, so weighted with safflower that he is moving with a distinct waddle, hops down and scurries off home to cache some of them, or perhaps smoke an after-dinner cigarette.

Dove preens. Showed him. Peace is restored once more.

*Less sanitary, one assumes. Although despite their bad rap and tendency to crawl with disease, I have generally always found rats to be well-groomed, clean, neat-footed little creatures whenever they have the opportunity.

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