Outdoor Snooper: Territories

Nice to see you again. Since this is the time of the year when most wild animals rear their young, there are little wars being waged around your property. Many individuals or pairs of birds or mammals, even fish, need to establish their own territories for the reproduction process.

Years ago, if you lived in the country, the pheasant cockbird crowing around your home would dominate all the hens that passed through his territory. Nearby, another cock pheasant would dominate all the hens that passed through his territory. Nearby another cock pheasant would be protecting his turf. On occasion you would see two male pheasants fighting like old barnyard roosters. Since all wild areas are not equal, the male that controlled the hens favorite haunts did most of the mating. I have watched two cockbirds walking in opposite sides of a fence row. As long as each one stayed on his side, only crowing and stares resulted, but if one strayed to the other side, the feathers would fly!

Wild turkeys have a moving territory. The largest, loudest, and usually the most aggressive gobbler will roam the area with his harem of hens. The hen turkeys know he is the boss of the hill and come to him to mate. Since only a few of these special older gobblers mate with the hens, there is an excess of male turkeys. This is why you can have Spring gobbler hunting during the mating season and not interfere with the mating process. If the dominant gobbler is killed, there is always an anxious second best gobbler to take over. He may have to fight several other would-be suitors in order to take his spot.

Many birds pair up for only one season. They mate, build a nest, rear the young, possibly several clutches, then they go their separate ways. Robins, wrens and cardinals go through this mating pattern. Birds, like the Canada Goose and the Great Horned Owls, mate for life, however, their nesting and behavior patterns are different.

Geese establish a breeding territory that is defended by the pair, with the male doing the patrolling as the female incubates the eggs. If the pair survives, they usually return to the same small area for the next years breeding season. After the young hatch, they are moved to the water and are guarded by both parents as they grow over the summer. Once the goslings are fully feathered and able to fly, the family group joins with other groups too form large flocks that may migrate hundreds of miles, or they remain local.

Owls, on the other hand, are permanent residents. Their territories are also permanent. The mated pair defends an area from all other Great Horned Owls. Since these owls have a life span of 10 years or more, there is a good chance the hooting you hear over the year is being made by the same pair of owls. If one of the pair is killed, it is likely the remaining owl will have to relinquish the area as other pairs are always looking for better territories.

Some birds that have over-lapping territories develop certain hatreds for one another. Crows dislike Great Horned Owls, probably for several reasons. It is possible that crows, as they roost at night, fall victim to the owls. To add insult to injury, the owls have never learned to build their own nests, and may use the old nesting platforms of crows. Since owls nest very early in the year, and the crows are still ganged up, they take special delight in harassing any owl that might show itself during the day. The amazing part of the whole show is they never bother the female while she is on the nest! I have often watched while a number of crows harass, dive bomb, and make life miserable for a female owl that decided to take a break from the boredom of nesting. Let her fly to the nest, and the crows will suddenly disappear.

The other day while mowing, I noticed a Red-tailed Hawk making its hunting circles, probably looking for food to take to its mate, who is tending a nest about a quarter mile away, the same nest used by the Great Horned Owls earlier in the year. All of a sudden, the red-tailed went into a power dive towards the trees. I figured a squirrel was going to have a problem. As it turns out, a turkey buzzard was the victim of the hawks fun assault. As the hawk turned to make another pass, I noticed a crow zooming over the trees, hot on the tail of the hawk. The hawk, surprised by its attacker, broke off its assault and made for cover. The crow, however, soon had its problem -- three Blue Jays jumped the crow and send it streaking to safety. Do unto others, apparently has little meaning in the ranks of thes e attacking birds.

The most aggressive, and probably the noisiest feathered local, is the Mocking Bird. As one ornithologist put it, In improvisation and mimicry, the Mocking Bird is the most versatile and bulliest of American bird vocalists. As the name implies, they have been known to imitate the cackling of chickens, bark of dogs, and the squeals of a wheelbarrow.

When young are in the nest, the parents can be downright miserable while defending their territory. They may attack other birds twice their size, such as the crows, keep the neighbors dog in its own yard, and make any cat think twice before coming out of the house. Even the property owner can be made to duck when this feathered bomb attacks.

Although small male Cardinals can be even more ambitious in defending a territory, they will attack houses and cars. They see their own reflections, but think it is another male. From early April into June, our house windows and side mirrors on the truck and car are under attack. This has been going on for years! The family has become accustomed to these assaults, but visitors become fascinated when the male Cardinal fights his image in the window. In addition to these territorial assaults by the Cardinals, the side mirrors of our vehicles are also visited by a male Cowbird. Since Cowbirds dont build nests (the females lay their eggs in the nests of other birds), it doesnt seem to be a territorial defense. I believe this male Cowbird is in love with himself!

See you next time.