For the Birds Radio Program: Bird Aggression, and Baker's Blue Jay Party Mix
As the United States sends more and more soldiers to the Middle East, people are re-examining the ways we humans deal with aggression. I much prefer the ways of birds.
Take the Prairie Warbler. When this species returns in spring to the eastern United States, each male quickly defines the boundaries of his territory. His careful survey of the property gives him a clear understanding of the best shelters, the richest food sources, and the most prominent singing perches. His musical claim of ownership is enough to win a debate with any other male—Prairie Warblers, like most birds, believe that possession is nine-tenths of the law, and right makes might.
There’s only one case where a male in possession loses out to a newcomer—that’s when the bird who possessed the territory the previous year is delayed in migration and another male unknowingly takes his place. In this case, the previous owner just about always wins. Apparently his greater experience and understanding of the lay of the land gives him the edge, even over the legitimate claim of the bird who beat him to the punch. First come, first serve doesn’t always work in the world of birds.
Last week, when the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union held their annual paper session in Minneapolis, Bud Tordoff, one of the most distinguished ornithologists in the country, related the curious story of a Peregrine Falcon. “Beaner” was released in Minnesota in 1986 as part of the Peregrine Reintroduction Project. He belongs to a highly migratory subspecies of Peregrine, and flew south that fall. He returned to a hill near Hastings in April 1988, and managed to attract a mate, but they were apparently too young to successfully reproduce. In 1989, when the male in possession of the Northern States Power Plant in St. Paul got killed by a car, Beaner appeared within a matter of hours. The widowed falcon accepted him, but Beaner wasn’t willing to raise another male’s young, so he drove the fledglings off the territory and she went with them. This female belonged to a fairly non-migratory race of Peregrines, and early the next spring she started a hot romance with a male of her non-migratory race while Beaner was still down south. When he arrived, his former mate had already laid a couple of eggs. He got angry about being jilted and engaged in a day-long battle with his rival. Beaner’s greater age and experience won out, and he ended up with both the territory and the female. Beaner was apparently the kind who doesn’t calculate the time between a wedding and a hatching baby, and he accepted and raised the babies as his own.
Whether a Peregrine Falcon or a Prairie Warbler, birds fight only for their most basic needs—land and love. They virtually never fight to the death. Indeed, most of their battles are fought with songs. They favor dueling banjoes over bullets and bombs.
There’s a lot we can learn from birds. And here’s a word from a man who abandoned the ways of humans and now spends his life with birds.
This is Jim Baker. The holidays are fast approaching, which means it’s time for you to head on up to my store for some Baker’s Blue Jay Party Mix. Yep—my special blend has all the ingredients for a great time: peanuts, acorns, walnuts, and bits of egg shell. I save up all the bits of foil from the chocolate I eat all year and wad it up in little bits to add some color and sparkle to your Blue Jays’ festivities. Don’t worry—they won’t eat it. They just hoard it away to play with when they’re feeling blue or to trade with their buddies. Tin foil is the Blue Jay equivalent of baseball cards. And tin foil is what makes Baker’s Blue Jay Party Mix the treat that lasts and lasts. Available only at Baker’s Blue Jay Barn, up the shore a ways.