Saturday, June 12, 2010

I'm-a Tell You About That Wonder Woman

That up there is an Eastern Phoebe. According to the online "Field Guide to the Birds of North America,"
  • The Eastern Phoebe was the first bird to be banded in North America. In 1804, John James Audubon used a silver thread attached to its leg to note when the bird would return each year.
  • Of the three Phoebe species, the Eastern Phoebe’s call most closely resembles its name.
  • Unlike most songbirds who must hear other birds to hone their vocalizations, an Eastern Phoebe raised in isolation will still sing a perfect song.
  • A group of flycatchers has many collective nouns, including an "outfield," "swatting," "zapper," and "zipper" of flycatchers.
Well we have neither zapper nor zipper of phoebes nesting atop our wind-chime on the back porch, but we do have one lone specimen. She (or perhaps a daughter) returns every year to that same spot, hatches two broods between April and July, and then scarpers off for parts unknown. She's been doing this since 2005. We've come to be rather good friends, us and that phoebe. Each year, her little ones leave a pretty impressive pile of birdshit on the floor of the porch, but we deal. Accommodations, you understand. Doesn't seem to be hurting the wood floor.

You may also remember another member of our extended family, the rat snake who inhabited our potting shed a couple of springs ago. We didn't object to his taking up residence, as the mouse population dove into near-zero numbers.

Among their other qualities, rat snakes are known as excellent climbers. Which is why the other evening as I sat reading on the porch-swing, I wasn't all that surprised to see one of that snake's younger relatives, perhaps four or five feet long, making his way up the screen door, making straight for the nestlings. Another few minutes and he'd be making a meal of them.

I called Wonder Woman out, intending to show her the Great Circle of Life or the Food Chain or something.

She wasn't interested in any science. She went straight up to the serpent, snagged it by the throat in fine herpetological fashion, pulled it off the screen door. The thing writhed and wrapped itself around her forearm. She turned its snaky face so she was looking it squarely, eye-to-eye. Then she said in a low growl, millennia of maternal instinct speaking through her, "Not! These! Babies!"

Then she stalked off across the lawn, the snake still wrapped around her wrist and forearm, and cast the accursed thing into a hedge of creeper twenty yards away. "Find someplace else to live!" she shouted after it.

It hasn't been back, of course. How would it dare, after having been chastened that thoroughly?

The chicks, by the way, were fledged the next day. And Mother Phoebe has started in on her second brood.


Roger D. Parish said...

The climbing ability of snakes never ceases to amaze me. I've watched a snake climb up an outside corner of our brick house, trying to get to the eaves.

Kate on Clinton said...

Wonder Woman is my hero.

Will Divide said...


mac said...

Trivia: You know what's great about Black Rat Snakes? They can climb up a tree but they can't climb down. So let's be careful out there.

Dave Harmon said...

Wonder Woman, unlike you, realizes that we are also part of Nature. If we want to keep something, we need to protect it.