Birds Fighting!

Non Birding Bill just gave me such a cool gift, a 1955 book called Birds Fighting by Stuart Smith and Eric Hosking (with field assistance by George Edwards). I haven't been this excited about an obscure book since he got me the Parasitic Birds and Their Hosts for Valentine's Day!

These British ornithologists went out and did experiments on birds to see what would happen when they came into contact with a predator, parasitic bird or another one of their own species during nesting season. For all of those people who like to think of the sweet nightingale singing high on his perch, you may want to look away. As I have attested to before, every bird has a dark side and this book captures it. Here are some highlight photos from the book:

Here is a stuffed sparrow hawk (the European equivalent to a sharp-shinned hawk). The stuffed bird was put out and then attacked in the top photo by a nightingale and in the bottom photo by a cock whinchat (is that an actual bird name?). The stuffed hawk isn't the best representation and looks a little goofy--kind of adds a whole new level of eerieness.

Isn't this an odd little tableau? In Europe the cuckoo is a parasitic bird like the brown-headed cowbird is here--depositing its eggs in another bird's nest. So, the Brits decided to see what would happen with a stuffed cuckoo near a nest. I love this photo, there's the odd looking stuffed cuckoo looking like he's saying "Huh?" being yelled at by a wood warbler while the warbler's young is begging for food in the background. This kind of reminds me of candid family photos at holidays.

Here we have a tree pipit giving the what for to a stuffed cuckoo--actually ripping out feathers! The cuckoo studies were quite interesting. The chapter was called "Part One: Adventures with a Stuffed Cuckoo". Isn't that a great title? I want to write a buddy picture starring William H. Macy and title it that. Heck, this book makes me want to chuck it all and declare a new life that involves adventures with a stuffed cuckoo. Anyway, check this out:

Some species were stimulated to attack based on the shape of the head. For example, these willow warblers vehemently attacked a cuckoo head as demonstrated in the above photo but were not so aggressive with a cuckoo body without a head. Or this just means that they are just as freaked out as I would be if someone came by with a human head on a stick.

Here's an up close view of the warbler attacking the head. It looks as though it's thinking, "Blood, murder, destroy." Almost enough to make Alfred Hitchcock proud.

And finally I give you this sad little display. Here we have a stuffed redshank being mounted by a live redshank. I've seen this kind of behavior in spruce grouse, but I guess I expected a little better from a redshank. Here is the passage describing the events that led to this photo:

"We placed our stuffed Redshank alongside a nest containing four well-incubated eggs. The hen Redshank returned, saw the dummy from a distance and ran towards it, calling with a melodious 'chew-chew-chew' note. It then rushed the dummy and thrust its bill into the dummy's neck tearing large pieces of feathering away. It then sprang on to the dummy's back and violently attacked its head, crushing it meanwhile to the floor. In this position, the dummy stretched out with its tail somewhat erected, and in a quite different attitude from the upright position in which we had first placed it. The Redshank now sprang on to the dummy's back again, but this time did not attack it, but attempted to mate with it. The crouched posture and raised tail of the dummy now elicited an entirely new reaction from the Redshank."

I'll say!

So, if you're looking for a fun read about three British ornithologists who go out and mess with a bird's head all the while discovering interesting and useful information about aggression and other bird behaviors, this is the book for you.

Boy, they just don't write 'em like this anymore.