Sunday, February 10, 2008

Bird Fight

After several weeks of cold clear weather, and cold rainy weather, and cold cloudy weather (ok, ok - cold for northern California! All right??), last week the weather changed and we had warm sunny weather. By "warm", here, I mean, mid-60's! (Yes!)

So in the warm sunny weather I found myself walking home from the transit station last Friday, and I saw the damndest bird behavior I'd ever seen - there were two scrub jays apparently fighting on a lawn:

They were squawking madly at each other, scrabbling around in the grass.

You sort of expect to see birds fighting in the air, yes? I don't know - all I've ever seen scrub jays do is steal food.

They were scratching at each other's stomachs with their feet, and occasionally pecking at each other:

With no particular evidence (scrub jays aren't especially sexually dimorphic), I assume this was a pair of males fighting over a female - there was a third jay sitting on a wire overhead, squawking regularly. I cast that one for the role of female. Could this be some kind of courtship display or are they really fighting over the female?

I got one more picture that looks a little more affectionate, but believe me, the birds weren't acting affectionate:

They kept at it long enough for me to shoot these pictures with my cell phone (I really have to think about getting a functional digital camera); and then they all flew away, including the one on the wire.

If any of my genius readers can confirm what they were doing, I'd appreciate it.


  1. Anonymous5:40 PM

    First picture looks like a rugby scrum. Second and third look like a fight at the Big Scrub Bar (the Big Scrub is the Ocala Forest, one of the last outposts of scrub jays in Florida).

    Anonymous David

  2. Some years ago, I used to work in the Civic Center Plaza in San Francisco, and one lazy afternoon as I was gazing out the window at the roof of the building across the street I saw an extraordinary thing. A pigeon was gliding between the buildings when suddenly a big hawk shot down from the sky and snatched the pigeon in mid-air, carried him wriggling to the rooftop, and proceeded to hold him down with one claw while he tore and bit the thing to death, after which he leisurely ate it (enough detail!). Apparently, this kind of thing is not at all unusual, though I had never noticed a hawk in the city before; they do roost in tall buildings and prey on pigeons and gulls. There have been stories in the media about green parrots and other rara avis (what's the plural of avis?) in urban places.

    Then there was the time that two little terriers got locked up in the immortal embrace on our front lawn, and couldn't disengage. Much squealing and awkward backpeddling....

  3. I keep forgetting to check during the day to see if it's up, but there used to be a web cam aimed at the peregrine falcon nest on the PG&E building in San Francisco. Peregrines generally love skyscrapers; they nest on cliffs normally. And, of course, when they're there, they have to eat.

    I have no idea what is the plural of avis. I'm having enough trouble learning to pronounce Vulgate Latin for an upcoming performance of Carmina Burana, I have no time for plurals.