For the Birds Radio Program: Birds of Baseball
(Recording of Northern Oriole)
The song of the Northern Oriole will be a common sound in the Northland beginning in mid-May–don’t set out oranges for at least another week or two, since the earliest orioles on record in northern Minnesota have never appeared before May 2.
Of course there is one variety of oriole that has been seen this far north already this spring, at least over the airwaves–usually in flocks of about nine birds at a time. That’s the Baltimore Oriole– (Recording of Take Me Out to the Ball Game very low, augmenting slowly) –a bird that is especially noteworthy because every specimen ornithologists have ever been able to locate has been male. Not only have no females ever been documented, but all the displays, rituals, and vocalizations found in this variety appear to be directed at other males–this is not only a vast waste of reproductive energy but also an evolutionary dead end. How this bird reproduces is one of the great mysteries in ornithology. This phenomenon has also been noted in two other groups of similar birds–the Toronto Blue Jays and the St. Louis Cardinals.
These varieties of birds cannot really be considered species, since they include individuals that are of different groups–the swan-like Ty Cobb, Billy Martin, Pee Wee Reese, Goose Goslin, Ducky Medwick, Robin Roberts, and Red Ruffing. At least four have robins for parents– Brooks, Frank, Wilbert, and Jackie Robinson. Then there’s Willie Lee McCovey, named for a whole flock of partridge, and the man with the duck-like gait, George Waddell.
Like many gulls and shorebirds, the habitat of these baseball birds is short-grass fields, which attracts large numbers of bats, too, although bats are actually mammals, not birds. There are many fowl balls seen, and sometimes a batter tries bunting. Flycatchers are very popular–unlike fielders who duck. Often runners try to teal a base–if it’s a close call, bleacher bums can often be heard grousing or sniping, or even shouting “Killdeer Ump!” Those Boobirds are probably all stark raven mad.
Baseball has traditionally been a birder’s sport–played in the afternoon when other bird activity is lowest. Now the owners of the only team holding out against night games, the Chicago Cubs, are accused of being a bunch of loons and old coots for maintaining this outdated tradition, though they’re probably just doing it for a lark.
Now if you can swallow all this pheasant banter, you’re probably veery gullible. So all you baseball plovers out there, just remember–it’s one, two, three shrikes you’re out at the old ball game.
This is Laura Erickson, who was inspired by good old Doc Proc and Wink Timber, the Voice of the North Woods, to take a gander at this baseball edition of “For the Birds.”