Cock of the Walk

cardinal audubon

Spring comes in softly at first. Then, it rushes in hard and warm, like water gushing from the faucet into a dirty sink.  The birds start their singing when it starts in softly. The cardinals are among the first to lift their voices high among the skeleton trees. The testosterone flows hot in their red-feathered forms, and they begin to set out their breeding territories for the year.

All winter, they have moseyed morosely with mixed flocks of hens and cocks. They have flitted at the feeders as comrades against the cold and the hunger, but now, the primal pursuits of carnality take over. And the cockbirds turn violent against those former friends, and by the time, the first warm days of April come slipping along, they have set up their fiefdoms. And all through the warm months, they will patrol their lands, ready to do battle against any interloper.

This year, a particular male cardinal, all resplendent red, chose a piece of territory near a fine home with nice English garden. It also had a well-built garage.  That garage possessed a large window and along the wall where the window was located was was well-manicured flower-bed.

The cardinal had done a good job driving out all the bachelors, poachers, and Lotharios from his land, but every time he inspected that part of the territory near the garage, the bright red form appeared in the window. And oh it would enrage the cock cardinal!

How dare that poaching lowlife appear on his land! How dare he!

And the cardinal would attack the red form in the window. He would think that his orange beak would lay a hard blow against his rival feathers, but each time he banged into the window.

And he would get angrier and angrier. He would spend hours fighting the phantom bird in the glass. He would sometimes tire and fly along the walk leading to the garage and mutter little cheeping sounds at its rival.

He was the cock of this walk. No one else will ever be!

The owners of the house would have thought this whole display rather charming. However, during all those hours of fighting his rival in the reflection, the male cardinal dropped copious white feces all along the walk.

The woman of the house hated cleaning up the bird poop and regularly let her husband know about her displeasure. She wanted something done and done soon.  A shotgun could solve all their problems.

But the man of the house was more circumspect. He liked living where cardinals could flit and sing all summer, and further, he was fully aware of a federal law protecting songbirds.

So he tried setting out scarecrows in the flowerbed and along the walk. And for a day, they kept the male cardinal from coming in to war and poop.

But those primal urges were that strong, and the male cardinal returned to give up a good fight.

He fed his mate and his growing chicks, but every day, he had to spend hours fighting his rival in the window. And the feces kept piling up.

One day, the man rose from the house. He cradled a 20-gauge rabbit gun in his right arm. He waited until the cardinal gave him a clean shot, and nothing was behind the bird. And then he raised his gun. And broke the federal law.

And the red bird fell hard and lifeless to the ground. The man picked up the cardinal and threw him in the trash.

No evidence of the crime was left. It was just over with a single shotgun blast. No one knew any the wiser.

Modern man likes to live near nature, but even in the most banal of conflicts, nature must yield to man’s desires.

No concession could be given to the cardinal. His chicks in the woodland starved. His mate found a new lover among the Lotharios, and the new mate was not as aggressive about pecking at his rival in the garage window.

And so the summer went on. The cardinals sang and caught grasshoppers and ate summer wheat and August corn.

And their lives went on in the wild, minus the cock of the walk that dared to fight his own reflection in the window.

 

Natural History

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