Tuesday, June 15, 2010

PAVAROTTI TITMOUSE OUTSHOUTS OPPONENT!

I'm not an expert birder—and certainly not an expert on tufted titmice. Oh sure, titmice are regular year-around feeder visitors. I see them every day and am quite familiar with their usual peter-peter-peter whistle. But yesterday, I was entertained during my deckside lunch break by a noisy and scrappy session of atypical (to me, anyway) titmouse behavior.
I was kicked back in the rocker on the deck, with a favorite book, eating, reading, and keeping the occasional eye on the river, the island across from the cottage, and the various hummingbird and seed feeders nearby. The bird supply was steady and varied, though mostly cardinals, titmice, chickadees, house finches, nuthatches, and every so often, a red-belied or downy woodpecker. One of the larger feeders, stuffed with sunflower seeds, hung within five or six feet of where I sat.
The scenario began with a shouting match—an odd sort of back-and-forth sparring which didn't sound at all like the usual titmouse call. Moreover, until I actually spotted the participants, I wasn't even sure the sounds were coming from a titmouse, or that more than one bird was involved. Whatever the argument as about, it was a fast-moving exchange. Within moments, a pair of titmice appeared, hopping from branch-to-branch where they'd face off for a few seconds, maybe two-to-three inches apart, each voicing their complaints—or possibly calling their opponent unflattering names—in an astonishingly loud vocalization. In fact, the loudest bird sound I've ever heard emanate from a titmouse; wren-loud and then some!
After a brief exchange of bemeanings and name-calling, the birds would scoot along the branch, or fly to another, and repeat the process. As I said, this call was not at all like the usual titmouse whistle—rather a call I've never heard before. One other thing I noted was that one bird was much louder than the other; the unquestioned cranked-up volume master—a veritable Pavarotti of the hurled insult.
Following a few minutes of close-range clamor, the pair would suddenly dart into the air, flying over the river, a dozen feet from the trees and about the same height in the air…at which point they would whirl until they were facing one another, fluttering while windmills to stay aloft, inches apart, and continue this aerial standoff, whirring wingfeathers intermingling, until they began to lose altitude and sank to within a inch or two of the stream's surface. On several occasions I believe a tailfeather or two actually got wet.
At this perilous point they would call a temporary truce, return to the hackberry branches near the seed feeder, and resume their beak-to-beak debate. This chain of events was repeated at least a dozen times. Finally, the weaker-lunged titmouse either lost the argument or his voice—or at any rate decided he'd had enough in-his-face shouting for the day, and flew off.
Most avian battles are about territory, mates, or food. I have no Idea which prompted this particular disagreement. But I do know I've never seen titmice act this way, never heard the distinctive—but different—call being used by both parties, and never heard such a big voice on so small a bird.
———————

18 comments:

The Weaver of Grass said...

One wonders why birds don't get thoroughly hoarse this time of year because they don't half voice their opinions loud and clear!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Weaver…

The spring chorus hereabouts ended some weeks ago, but there are certain birds which still sing from dawn 'til dusk—and you're right, by rights they should occasionally get hoarse.

Bernie said...

I envy you the time you have with these sweet little birds, and I love how you share them with us.
One of the sweetest sounds in the world is that of a bird singing, I find them so calming and relaxing Grizz........:-) Hugs

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Bernie…

Well, these two weren't exactly singing…but it was still fun to see and hear. I love the time I get to spend watching whatever the day presents—and it is truly calming.

Gail said...

HI GRIZZ-

Great share. Your experiences are full of life and wonder and natural truths.

Love to you
Gail
peace and hope.....

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Gail…

I'm glad you enjoyed the post/pix. Hope things are going well…

Tramp said...

who knows what piece of domestic drama you were witness to...Tramp

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Tramp…

Whatever it was, they were really going at it—and I had a ringside seat.

(P.S. Sorry to be so slow in getting your comment up and answering…I've been out and about all day.)

Bernie said...

Hi Grizz, just stopping by to say hello and hope you are doing well.
......:-)Hugs

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Bernie…

I'm doing okay, though I've had some things to deal with lately which have taken an emotional toll…more than I realized, I guessed.

Anyway, I'm doing better.

Most of all, please know how much I appreciate your noticing my absence and taking the time to write. Thank you…

George said...

Hi Grizz. I just returned from my coast-to-coast walk a few days ago, and it's reassuring to come back to your blog for insights into the wondrous workings of nature. I notice that you haven't posted anything for a couple of weeks. I trust that all is well or getting better, and that we will hear from you again soon.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

George…

It is good to hear from you, good to have you back commenting and—I trust—posting. I hope everything went well with your walk and that you enjoyed the adventure.

I have been lax in posting recently, for a couple of reasons—all of which have worked themselves out. That's on thing I've learned…time changes life, and often it's our impatience that's the biggest issue.

Anyway, I will post something soon. And I'm looking forward to reading about your walk and trip through the lens of your usual excellent prose and insight.

Wanda said...

Just checking on your birds over here. Last week I notice 2 Cardinals doing a face off, they were leaning toward each other, appeared to be staring daggers, never moved for 20 seconds or so and finally only did because another bird flew in!

Hope you're not working too hard!
...wanda

Kelly said...

...interesting. I would have loved to have seen it. Lucky you--being out in nature always has its rewards!!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Wanda…

Sorry to be slow replying…I was gone most of yesterday and got home late, then up early and off again—and just managed to log on a few minutes ago. I am not working too hard, just running around too much. I'd hoped to get a new post up today—and may still—but I have to run two more errands before I can get back here and have time enough to write. And by then, I may be done in for the remaining hours, good only for the rocking chair on the deck, a light supper, and watching stars appear.

I've seen cardinal face-offs before, too. And more than a few fights they left feathers flying. They're pretty aggressive birds.

I trust your garden is doing well in the heat and frequent rains.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Kelly…

I wouldn't get to see (and photograph) half of what I do if I didn't live smack on the river, where it's convenient for me to spend any spare minutes outside, instantly in a good place to see birds and other critters.(Or often just look up from my desk window and see something neat.)

But you're right, being in the midst of the natural world always has its rewards.

Rowan said...

Like others I'v noticed your absence and I hope that whatever it is that life has thrown at you has sorted itself out and that all is well in your world. I'm sure that the river bank is a constant solace during the ups and downs of life. Take care.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Rowan…

Thank you for writing. I can't believe it has been two weeks since my last post. But all is well and I'm doing good—for me, though I'm still cranky, and no better looking.