Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Mobile Home Thrashers

When late spring arrives here in the desert, the people in the trailer park where I live move out, and the birds move in. There are trees and bushes here as well as water, and the local predator, the coyote, stays outside the fence. There are no dogs running loose and few cats. Wagner Park is now an open aviary.

I think it was mid-April when I first encountered the occasionally noisy and rather aggressive couple who now dominate my lot and the bushes on the other side of the driveway. I awoke one morning to hear them calling monotonously to one another. Apparently, both are named "Chuck."

"Chuck!" they said, in a raspy alto. "Chuck, Chuck!"

Foot-long brown birds with long, curved, wicked-looking black beaks, they're so identical in size, coloration, and temperament you can't tell the male from the female. They began industriously building a nest across the way and ran off all the other birds freqenting the lot except the mourning doves, who are extremely docile and apparently not a threat.

I soon began to grow attached to these dull, anti-social creatures, mainly because of their singular appearance, for I had never seen a bird that looks anything like them. I asked my neighbor, "What kind of bird is that?" but the usually knowledgeable Harold mis-identified my new lot mates as cactus wrens. I later found out cactus wrens are smaller and spotted, and not similar at all to these chocolate-colored wallflowers with the suture-needle beaks.

Thanks to the U.S. Geological Survey's comprehensive picture list of common birds of the U.S. and Canada, I finally determined that my new friends are the largest of the Mockingbird family (sometimes called the Mimidae), California thrashers.

One source I consulted said these birds are "common, but seldom seen" because they spend most of their time under bushes, turning over leaf litter and looking for food. So mine must be atypical, because I see 'em all the time, especially in the cool of the morning, and the waning hours of early evening, when invariably one of them is looking and calling for the other. Another source said they're "highly territorial," which is, I think, putting it mildly.

I wonder if they'll fly away to somewhere else in the fall, or will be here all the time now. I'd miss them if they left.

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