Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Pickly Pear Fruit and the Bully Bird

After days of rain and humidity the sun has returned again and so has the dry air. Outside the birds are flocking to my feeders. Over the weekend a lark sparrow was hanging around the feeders on the north side of the house. I had never seen one before except in a book, but instantly recognized it's pied face. The next day a pair of Gambel's quail showed up. The female was atop the quail block I had put out, while the male bird stayed on the other side of the view fence. When a young man rode by on his skateboard the two birds took off, walking at first, then running, and finally flying across the street to the desert beyond. I saw them again on Tuesday, but I haven't seen them since. Today a pair of lesser goldfinches came to my backyard feeder. While I had seen them in the canyon before, none had come into my yard. The larger house finches monopolized the feeder, but they managed to get at the portals sometimes.

In the desert the prickly pear are bursting with wine-colored fruit. The shape of the fruit is like that of a wineglass and each green pad seems to balance a row of goblets along its perimeter. The house finches are stained a raspberry color from eating the fruit. The crowns of their heads, their necks and throats all washed in it. On a walk in the desert I found a half-eaten fruit on the ground, most of the seeds gone from the interior. In a nearby mesquite tree a young verdin chirped, it's throat stained the same reddish-purple. Apparently the prickly pear cacti feed more than just javelinas.

This afternoon I watched a white-winged dove take over the feeders in my back yard. I was sitting out back writing when I heard this strange sound. It was a mixture of a squawk and the sound of a hand saw going through wood. I looked up to see what was making such a sound and noticed a white-winged dove on the ground under the feeder. It was all puffed up, his head was low, and he was charging the other birds with an extended beak. Like a medieval jouster, he used his beak like a lance. The other doves flew off, leaving the patch of earth beneath to the bully, but that was not enough for him. The little house finches were feeding from the thistle seed and peanut feeders above. This bully bird flew up to those feeders and chased them away also. Though he could not perch on the small metal projections or grasp the wire of the peanut feeder, he still charged at the tube and wire cages chasing them all away. After surveying his domain from atop the feeder, he flew to the ground again, patrolling the spot beneath. Like all bullies, he guarded his territory viciously.

The desert offers up its beauty and bounty, but at a price. The lush green growth hides thorns beneath; the cute birds in my yard are dominated by bullies; the jewel colored prickly pear fruit leaves a stain behind. Life in the desert isn't much different than life in the world. There is beauty and danger all around us and we must notice both, and if we are stained by life, then it only shows that we are partaking of it.

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