Springtime spat?

Eastern meadowlark P4075310© Maria de Bruyn res

Well, maybe “spat” is too mild a word for what I witnessed a few days ago when out birding. It was a gloomy, heavily clouded day and my expectations of seeing something unusual were low.

Eastern meadowlark P4075316 © Maria de Bruyn res

A male meadowlark (Sturnella magna, above) greeted me and his sweet song and subsequent foraging with his partner was a definite bright spot in the field.

Eastern meadowlark P4074595© Maria de Bruyn

His little concert was delightful. But then I thought perhaps he was asking me to go away and leave him and his partner to forage without spectators, so I did get ready to leave.

Eastern meadowlark P4074980© Maria de Bruyn

Before I left the area, however, my eyes were drawn to a spectacle further away.

Northern mockingbird P4074757© Maria de Bruyn res

There were flashes of gray and white erupting up from the ground, into the air and back down again. Before putting up my long-lensed camera (which serves as substitute binoculars for me), I figured the wing patterns were showing Northern mockingbirds (Mimus polyglottos). My first photos confirmed it.

Northern mockingbird P40748280© Maria de Bruyn res

Northern mockingbird P4074786 © Maria de Bruyn res

But then I watched with fascination and growing consternation as the two birds tackled one another in what was an actual knock-down, drag-out fight. I’d seen mockingbirds having territorial disputes before, but those spats only lasted a couple minutes and were mostly threat displays. This was a real battle.

Northern mockingbird P4074818© Maria de Bruyn

Northern mockingbird P4074819© Maria de Bruyn res

I don’t know if they were arguing over a third (female) bird or if it was mostly a territorial dispute. Perhaps it was both.

Northern mockingbird P4074864© Maria de Bruyn res

They ascended, facing off angrily.

Northern mockingbird P4074825 © Maria de Bruyn

They attacked one another mid-air.

Northern mockingbird P4074819© Maria de Bruyn res

And while descending to the ground.

Northern mockingbird P4074841© Maria de Bruyn

Northern mockingbird P4074834© Maria de Bruyn res

They pummeled one another.

Northern mockingbird P4074826 © Maria de Bruyn res

Northern mockingbird P4074833© Maria de Bruyn res

Flying to the ground, one would sit atop the other and seemed to be pecking at it once in a while. After getting off its opponent, the pair faced off again and started the fight anew.

Northern mockingbird P4074851© Maria de Bruyn

Northern mockingbird P4074835© Maria de Bruyn res

They were at it for at least 5 minutes and perhaps longer as I’d spotted them once the dispute was underway.

Northern mockingbird P4074831 © Maria de Bruyn

Northern mockingbird P4074839© Maria de Bruyn

Northern mockingbird P4074840© Maria de Bruyn res

As they continued fighting, I wondered if one of them might be hurt or wounded.

Northern mockingbird P4074832 © Maria de Bruyn. res

Neither one of them appeared to show any wounds (but then I was not really close enough to tell for sure).

Northern mockingbird P4074842 © Maria de Bruyn

Northern mockingbird P4074821© Maria de Bruyn res

At last one of them decided he’d had enough. The other two birds were chasing him, but he got away and flew to a tree. The fight ended and no one seemed to have been irreparably harmed. But it was a real lesson for me in realizing how territorial the mockingbirds can get. I’d seen some short-lived spats before, but now I know more serious fights occur as well. I don’t know if they ever lead to one of the opponents being mortally wounded. Hopefully not!

Northern mockingbird P4074866© Maria de Bruyn res

Next up – a story of my own close call with a hawk!

10 thoughts on “Springtime spat?

  1. Great photos!! You really captured the action, and seeing it frame by frame showed me what really goes on when I see two birds fighting. Oftentimes it’s just a blur as they battle (like my two bluebirds who had a fight that caused them to fall from a tree, still battling, and continued the fight as they hit the ground). I did go out an break that fight up as I worried they were wounding each other. Now I see that a fight might look more vicious that it actually is, at least most of the time.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve seen bluebirds having spats, but not to the extent that they were entangled and fell to the ground. I can imagine why you were worried, Lucretia! I don’t know if I would have tried to end the fight if I had been closer to the mockingbirds; I couldn’t get nearer to them as they were in a fenced-off area. A couple times, when I saw one sitting on top of the other one when they were on the ground, I felt REALLY bad for the one being pummeled and maybe I would have yelled at them then to try to stop it.

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  3. Thank goodness, not. But it is interesting to see how aggression is a “hard-wired” emotion in many species. Just not random aggression and cruelty as we’re seeing in the world among humans now.

    Like

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