The Bird Report

I was passing the front door when a flicker of movement caught my eye. Something was in the flower bed. Having just evicted a large chocolate lab a few minutes prior* I stopped to look, and discovered that the main flowerbed is full of goldfinches.

They perch on the vertical stems of echinacea and gayfeather, or inch down the narrow stems of the Brazilian verbena and cherry sage. I assume they’re hunting seeds, or perhaps tiny insects, for they peck at both stems and flowerheads, including unripe echinacea. The males are blinding lemon yellow and black, the females a dull gold and dark french grey. The males fight over who gets the best spot, clinging to the tallest gayfeather, and the loser is exiled to the other side of the yard, where he clings to the cedar trunk and tries to pretend he’s a nuthatch.

On the side yard, the brown thrashers have made a dust bath in one of my beds, near the blueberry. (Obviously I need to water that bed!) The thrasher pecks and scuffs at the crumbly dirt, then wallows belly down in it, feathers sticking up, tail spread, looking about as undignified as a bird can look without a beanie and a kazoo. There is apparently only one spot that’s really the good dustbath, though, so the other thrasher that hangs around with this one slinks in to try and get it. Battle is joined! They fight on the ground, hopping wildly over each other, kicking out with their talons, and generally look like they’re performing competitive can-can. One flips over completely in the air, which is apparently the signal that the battle is over. A heartbeat later, one of the thrashers is back at the dustwallow, and the loser is sulking in the hedge. I sort of wish I could tell them apart, so I’d know if the Matrix-style thrasher cartwheel is the killer finishing move or the signal for surrender.

*His name was “Buddy.” He had slipped his collar and jumped the fence, but fortunately one of the neighbors knew who he belonged to, and returned him. Like many chocolate labs, a big, friendly, enthusiastic dog with the approximate intelligence of an injured lentil.

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