Sunday, March 26, 2006

Tale of the Tap-dancing blackbird

I don't know if I mentioned it already, but there's a new inhabitant of the back garden this year. A cock blackbird has decided that those boughs of red berries over next door's shed are his and all the worms found in our lawn.

This has naturally caused an upset, because the resident blackbird, although not necessarily interested in these potential food sources up to now, is not impressed with the presence of a newcomer on his patch.

The two engage in a kind of psychological warfare. The new guy sits at the top of the ash tree and sings out his repetoire with gusto. The oldster perches on an even taller conifer at the end of the road and whistles his happy tune right on back at the new boy.

They met last week half way. Obviously neither was planning to budge and the cold-war propaganda broadcasts weren't working, so a more direct approach was needed. This isn't too spectacular among such flighty birds. One cock flew onto a neighbour's roof and stuck his tail aloft. The other did the same. Then they immediately took fright at each other and headed back to safety in their own territories. Presumably something may have been settled at that point, but I didn't notice any particular changes in either bird's behaviour. If anything, the younger bird appears to have gained a temporary advantage, despite his less sophisticated singing, because when the weather turned snowy he drove off both cock and hen from his patch and reasserted his ownership over the berried branches.

Our cats, meanwhile, have not let the competition go unnoticed. The younger bird quite deliberately lands in the garden and sticks his tail up at them. In fact, as he struts and stops to listen for the movement of the worms on which he likes to dine, he has a very bold body language which seems to be confusing the cats enormously. I can see him in top hats and tails tap, tap, tappity-tapping about and confounding the cats' best efforts to catch him. I think the psychology he's using here is definitely working, because they've simply decided not to try to stalk him any more. Instead they make a show of looking extremely interested, provided there are at least two layers of glazing between them and this atypical bird. Birdies, in their experience, are stupid squeaky things, that are easily caught and make pleasant noises when slowly tortured. This one doesn't play by the rules. Anything might happen to a cat who got too close.

I hope this one attracts a mate this year. It would be good to see more cocky blackbirds strutting their street-wise stuff in the neighbourhood.

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