CATEGORY: COL Columns (Journal)

AUTHOR: BREWER

HED:Fred Brewer: Don't mess with Lady Robin when she's bathing

Most birds have a routine they go though when they take a bath in my back yard, but not always.

Usually a bird walks up very cautiously to the eternal puddle I have at the end of my concrete porch. One step, then look left and right and then another cautious step until the bird stands right at the puddle. Look to the left and right and then timidly put one foot in and then timidly put the other foot in.

Once in the puddle, the cautious tactics continue. Look left and right, then stick head into water and flip some up over the body. Look left and then right, stick head into water and throw a little more onto the body. Do this about four times, ruffle feathers, step out of the bath, ruffle feathers again - always looking right and left. Look around one more time, fly off.

Mr. Blue Jay doesn't have time for all this. He flies down right next to the puddle, looks around once, jumps in the puddle, pokes half his body into the water, ruffles his feathers, flies away.

After taking a quick bath, Mr. Blue Jay goes back on duty, looking for the neighborhood cat. Every time the cat comes in the area, Mr. Blue Jay squawks:

"Cat's out, cat's out."

If the cat doesn't take the hint, Mr. Blue Jay swoops down and pecks the cat on the top of his head.

After months of this, the cat started juking his head down as if he wereabout to be attacked whenever he saw the shadow of any bird flying overhead.

Before Mr. Blue Jay had scared away the cat I hadn't thrown any bread on the porch, because I felt like it would just be baiting the field for the cat. But after not seeing the cat for a month I started throwing bread and pizza crust on the porch.

One day last month, I threw out five big chunks of pizza crust. I looked out the kitchen window about an hour later and I saw some grackles divvying it up.

They must have thought they had hit the mother lode, because the next day they had my porch staked out. If other birds would come in the area, they would try to scare them off. Except for Mr. Blue Jay. They didn't bother him.

Most birds were intimidated by the grackles and quit taking baths in the puddle. A pair of mourning doves still bathed. One would take a bath while the other one stood guard. But for several days, except for Mr. Blue Jay, they were the only ones who would risk taking a bath after the grackles posted the area off-limits.

One morning I looked out the window and saw five grackles - a regular gathering of grackles. A robin flew down a few feet from the puddle. She cautiously walked up to the puddle. She didn't pay any attention to the grackles.

She went through the whole routine. Take a step, look left and right, take another step. When she got to the edge of the puddle, she cautiously stuck one foot in the puddle, looked left and then right and then brought the other foot into the water. She looked left, right, then stuck her head in the puddle and threw some water up on her body.

The second time Lady Robin ducked her head in the water a grackle ran up and poked her in the side with its beak.

Startled, she jumped about two feet to the left. But she didn't fly off as most birds did when bothered by the grackles. Instead, she looked around.

"What's this?"

The grackles pecked in the grass like they didn't hear her.

"Oh, I see what's going on," Lady Robin said.

She walked back to the puddle. There were no more timid steps, she was striding straight ahead.

And, when she got to the edge of the water, there was no one-foot, two-foot stuff. She jumped right in the middle of the puddle. The feathers on the crown of her head were sticking straight up as she started flinging water.

Most of the time when birds would take a bath they would sprinkle water about six inches onto the porch. Lady Robin was splashing water about three feet onto the porch. She wasn't taking a bath, she was slapping water.

"You want some of me? C'mon, C'mon."

They didn't. As the grackles flew off, I thought I heard one say: "She's crazy."

After they left, Lady Robin ruffled her feathers once and then strode out of the water. She stood on the porch looking around. Not cautiously like a bird or a squirrel, but like a champion boxer who has just knocked out the best of the local yokels and is checking to see if there are anymore challengers.

There weren't.

"Hmmph," she said and flew off.

Fred Brewer is assistant copy desk chief for the Daily Journal.

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