MMM: Bird on a Fire
Mostly Madison Mondays – a howdoyoudo from my hometown of Madison, Wisconsin
Yesterday morning’s respite beckoned a return to Pheasant Branch Conservancy, the same park with The Owl Tree, only to the other side. I don’t know if that’s even true – I just park the car and get out – but it feels like a different park entirely back behind Copp’s, The Prairie Cafe et al. I’ve been here more times than to the owl side but yesterday it felt foreign. Maybe it’s because I’m alone, but it’s probably because everything was recently burnt to the ground.
There was a heavy rain last night so it was damp and chilly. Coupled with the surrounding embers, the whole scene felt distinctively and bizarrely autumnal.
Slash-and-burn, is that what they call this process? A fire so controlled it burns around piles of wood.
I would very much like to see a fire being managed: “Burn this wood but not that wood.” “And stop when I tell you to stop.” Who controls fire? How can I get a ticket to that show?
It was even politely escorted around the birdhouses.
That’s the tease of this side of Pheasant Branch – you hear birds everywhere but all you see is open space and faraway flocks.
When you hear so much but see so little, your mind plays tricks. At first glance I wondered why these birds were hanging upside down from their branch:
Then I let myself believe I had stumbled upon a giant crane or heron …
only to discover a trespasser’s long-forgotten shirt.
My 300mm lens did little to stem the crazy, but I did manage to catch a common robin, no offense to the robin.
As I traversed back up the trail towards the parking lot, I noticed several birds scampering about the blackened brambles, pecking here and there. One bird caught my eye because he appeared as brown and as ashy as the ground and with my mind and vision akimbo, I thought it was a burnt robin, a soot-covered bird! A Robin-Phoenix if you will. BEHOLD THE ROBIN-PHOENIX!
No. My Audubon app told me to CTFD, what I was looking at was a male Brown-Headed Cowbird. The female Brown-Headed Cowbird was busy committing ornithcide (my word):
“When a cowbird lays an egg, it usually tosses a host egg out of the nest. Many hosts don’t seem to notice the replacement, and when they do, if they try to toss out the cowbird’s huge egg with their relatively tiny bill, they sometimes scratch or pierce their own eggs. Also, as Irby Lovette notes in “Extortion Rackets and Egg-Farming by Cowbirds” (Spring 2008 BirdScope Online), when a host bird does remove a cowbird egg, the cowbird may return to destroy the remaining eggs.
Each time a songbird returns to its nest, it feeds the baby with the widest gape, which normally is the hungriest baby. If the cowbird is larger than the other nestlings, it gets the lion’s share. Some host birds may successfully raise both a cowbird and one or two of their own, but in some species, the cowbird is almost always the only survivor.” – Cornell Lab of Ornithology
It take a village, my friends. It takes a village.
Cowbird. Cow. Bird.
Until next time, I bid you a fond farewell from Pheasant Branch and to my sanity. Ka-kaaaaaw!