Since moving to our house at the height of a Sonoran spring, I’ve become ever more aware of the soap opera lives of our fellow feathered friends. It’s nonstop drama on par with the bitchiest of reality shows. As with their human counterparts, it’s mostly related to mating. The males competing for territory and for females. The females fighting off unwanted male attention (or trying to). The puffed up feathers and complicated dance steps the males use to persuade a nearby female to let them have their way with them. And of course the – ahem – actual act of ‘getting it on’, National Geographic style. Note: Turns out taking pictures of birds and lizards from an iPhone is more challenging than I thought. But I do have some pictures of where they like to hang.
The mourning doves are the sweet lovers of the romantic comedy. Male and female both ruffle and puff their chests and preen each other, bobbing their beaks between each other’s feathers, until he climbs piggyback for a few seconds. And then they’re monogamous partners for life, ready to find their nesting site and git to the chick rearin. The loudest they get is an endearing little coo. Awwwww.
The house sparrows are the smallest but the loudest of the rowdy bunch – they seem to get into these group quarrels – three will be hanging in the oleander bush with two outside, swooping in and tweet-tweet-tweeting. I can’t tell what the problem is but it’s got somebody’s panties in a wad. Chitter, chitter chatter chatter, wings a flappin, all hoppin about until whatever they’re arguing about reaches fever pitch and the chase is on! Two males break away a-swooping between branches, then circling back – the chaser chirping at fever pitch, berating the hapless fellow for the heinous mistake of crossing his path. Their flight path turns into curlicues and figure eights making me dizzy just watching them from my cloistered perch on the patio. But finally the loser gives up and high tails it out of the yard while the victor finally stands still, his feathers puffed up just slightly at the effect of his proven dominance.
It’s stunningly beautiful when you see this happen with cardinals, though. Two scarlet-plumed blurs weaving through the olive tree dazzled us just the other day. Their shapes were so elongated – from their little mohawks to their lavishly long tails – and they followed each other so closely, like a living red ribbon trying to tie itself through the branches. As much as I like to avoid conflict, that chase was over too soon.
But it’s the mating dances that crack me up. All the species have their own impressive repertoires, but the mockingbirds are some impressive dancers. They hike up their wings, stopping three times on the way. Then back down. up, Up, UP down, up Up UP, down. Somehow reminding me of Mick Jagger. Sometimes he hunches forward, puffing up his wings into an inverted bowl. And his tail feathers bob up and down, up and down. I can’t imagine how the female is affected by these shenanigans. But considering how many mockingbirds there are, it must be dead sexy.
The birds aren’t the only ones going through so much emotional and physical upheaval. The lizards have their own spring trials to deal with. I’ve written before about the lonely tree lizard. But when two males meet and one of them gives the ol’ stinkeye? Now there’s some action. The Battle Royale is on! Their mouths open and suddenly they’re locked in a deadly jaw embrace, coiling their tails around each other’s bodies, flipping and somersaulting across the ground in death rolls. Perfect footage for an old black and white movie about prehistoric monsters. It almost makes me queasy to watch! I look away and then by the time I look back, they’re clambering off in opposite directions, their blood feud settled. For now.
We have a new lizard species we’re living with, and I’m rather gaga about him: the collared lizard. A little bigger than tree lizards – whenever I see one through the corner of my eye, I think it’s a chipmunk. But he’s a sweet little feller. He does his own pushups so I guess he’s another lonely boy. But he sure is pretty – they’re called ‘collared lizards’ because of the black band that runs around their neck. Some of the males also have blue/green/gold colorings – just lovely. And as I’m klak-klak-klicking at my computer, I see him scurry along the gravel, either hightailing it to the knobby roots of the olive tree or scrabbling into the ancient built in barbecue.
I can’t quite tell if I’m seeing the same one over and over or if there is indeed a community. So I’ll have to keep my eyes peeled. There he is again. Scurry, scurry, scrabble over gravel and pavers. Oblivious to the dramas playing out around him. Refusing to witness the silly sagas of his neighbors. Just hoping to find a sweet partner who digs his markings. Good luck, pal, hope you find your dreamgirl.