Roger Barbee: The suet and the mockingbird

Roger Barbee

There are many advantages to riding my stationary bicycle on the side deck: no automobile traffic to worry about, no travel time to a course for my workout, I control the workout, the deck is in the morning shade, and I can watch and study the flower garden. All of these points are good, but I have come to enjoy the flower garden as much as any of them.

This is the first season that we have noticed that a mockingbird(s) has taken up residency at Red Hill. It would sit in the autumn maple in the front yard and announce its business to the waking world, and from that perch, control the bird traffic to and from the front suet feeder. If a nuthatch or cardinal or woodpecker of any type flew in from the privet hedge, the mockingbird would swoop in and chase away the invader. While the mockingbird could not keep all the other birds away from the suet, it did manage to eat more than its share of the treat.

Then one morning while riding, I noticed that the mockingbird had made its way to the back garden and was holding court above the suet attached to the old hand rail from Gordon’s house. The handrail made a good holder for suet because it was made of painted medal, which is too small and smooth for a squirrel to climb, thus keeping those pesky rascals from eating all the suet.

Just as had happened in the front, the mockingbird allowed no other bird to eat from the treat. The mockingbird sat on the rail above the suet and defended it fiercely from any other bird. Feeling satisfied with its work, the mockingbird would drop from its perch and try to get a grip on the wire holder of the suet just like all the other birds had been doing before being chased away, but he couldn’t for some reason. Time after time I watched it drop from the rail to the wire basket, only to miss grasping it and continuing its fall in a show of gray and white of its wings.

I continued to watch. The bird continued to try. It continued to fall in a flutter of wings. Then it seemed to get a good idea and flew over to a walnut tree about 20 feet away. From there it watched other birds, especially the red-bellied woodpecker since it was its size, come to the suet feeder to eat. It studied them all. It studied each one’s flight approach. It took note of each one’s head position. It observed and then, from the walnut tree, gave the task some more consideration. I know all this because I saw it turn its head from side to side as it pondered. Then it took a slow glide to the suet feeder and just as it seemed it had made a successful perch on the feeder, it fell below in a flurry of gray and white wings.

Now, I am no expert on mockingbirds, but I have seldom seen any creature, even a woman or man, work so hard and with so much dedication. Time after time, that mockingbird flew to the walnut tree to observe other birds and devise a new plan. Each attack on the suet brought the same result.

The other birds even flew in slower as if to show it how to land on the feeder, but the mockingbird, for whatever reason, could not solve this puzzle. In frustration, the mockingbird took on a human trait. Out of spite, it sat on the top metal rail and kept any other bird from the suet. At first it seemed to enjoy this, but when all the other birds went elsewhere to feed, its head hung, and I honestly thought that bird became ashamed and lonesome.

As if to make amends, it flew to the walnut tree and sat in the shade of a limb and watched the suet. Soon a nuthatch flew in and the mockingbird left its walnut tree perch, but it did not scold the nuthatch but flew right over it, returning to the front yard and the autumn maple tree. I thought I heard it mumble as it flew over me, but I am not sure.

When I finished my workout, it was sitting at the very top of its favorite perch, singing and talking for all the world to hear. The song seemed to be a celebration of having a feeder in the front that it could eat from without using the one in the back. Its last lyrics were something about a suet in the front is better than two in the yard.

Roger Barbee is a retired educator who lives in Edinburg.