By Gib Check
Wife Ruthie is the bird-watching expert, though even I can tell the difference between, say, a duck and a woodpecker. One swims and the other doesn’t. In any case, I like watching the antics of our feathered friends as much as her.
This last winter I glanced outside and spotted one I’d never seen before sitting atop our backyard feeder. Robin-sized, with black and white markings on a pale gray body, it looked very striking. Funny, though, how it was ignoring the birdseed on the feeder platform. Instead, its perky little head kept swiveling from side-to side and down at the ground where seed had fallen onto the snow.
What a cute little birdie, I thought. Ruthie wasn’t around to identify it, so I just kept admiring it.
Suddenly it froze to stare at something below. A second later it swooped down, thrust its tiny beak into the snow, and pulled up a seed-hunting mole! The bird promptly killed it with a few jabs of its beak. Next it flew off with it to the island across from our pier. The bird’s line of flight jogged up and down with its heavy burden, but it made it.
I stood there flabbergasted. Then I was even more surprised to see this cute but homicidal little bird soon resume its perch on the feeder to find more victims.
Interrupted by Ruthie coming home, I rushed her to the window and told her what I’d seen. After laughing like I was only joshing her, she studied our little visitor.
“It’s pretty, but I don’t recognize it. I’ll go find my bird book.”
When I came home the next day, it was her turn to grab hold of me. “I’ve got to show you that bird! You won’t believe what it did!”
As we peered out at our pint-sized killer perched on the feeder, she said excitedly, “I thought you were kidding me yesterday, except it just now grabbed a mole!”
She laughed, “And here’s the crazy part! A squirrel ran over and tried taking the mole away from it! But then little Killer fought him for it!”
She said the two of them had a tug-of-war over the poor mole until the squirrel finally won and ran off with it.
Opening the bird book, she showed me that our mystery guest was a Loggerhead Shrike, a rare species that sometimes visits from the far north. Truly a killer if ever there was one, it preys on small birds and mammals. If thorn trees are handy, it impales its victims on long thorns to snack on later. This explained why no other birds were using the feeder. They were staying way clear of little Killer’s reign of terror.
Visiting friends stood with us at the window, all of us watching it on the feeder and hoping to see some blood-sport. Disappointingly, there was no savagery this time. Maybe it had already knocked off all the moles.
Since our squirrel had revealed itself to be carnivorous, we looked it up, too. Sure enough, we learned that yet another of our cutesy backyard critters often feasted on things besides acorns.
We always thought our backyard was a place where wild creatures peacefully mingled, but as it turns out, it’s a slaughterhouse. And so, dear readers, does all of this sound a bit grim? Then here’s a cheerier note, or at least it is for Ruthie and me; we sure won’t be plagued with any mole problems this year. Better yet, if you don’t mind a bit of bloodshed, maybe we could even send little Killer over to deal with your moles!
Retired from construction, I live on a Wisconsin lake with wife Ruthie and am finally exploring being an author. When I write about our travel adventures, I focus on the fun we have meeting people and exploring these places. I’m also big on hiking, biking, canoeing, and thrill to stargazing. (I keep hinting to Ruthie and the kids about a new ‘scope). But always, it’s the writing I love.