If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?Merchant of Venice, III:1
When it comes to avian life in Butte, Montana it is somewhat the same and somewhat different from Mississippi. Immediately upon arriving we saw great big robin redbreasts, which we are, of course, familiar with throughout all of North America. We also saw perhaps the most cosmopolitan of all birds, the rock dove or plain old pigeon.
Some of what we’ve been missing here in Butte include the jays, cardinals, mockingbirds, mourning doves, woodpeckers, hawks, and owls that proliferate in southwest Mississippi.
Despite the high, arid environment, Butte has some surprisingly lush riparian microclimates like the wetlands surrounding the Blacktail and Silver Bow creeks. These isolated wetlands harbor geese, ducks, coots, kildeer, and blue herons amongst their cattails, black willows, and trembling aspens.
But the real subject of this story, the hero or villain depending on which side you fall, is the Brewer’s blackbird.
The Brewer’s blackbird, named for ornithologist Thomas Mayo Brewer, is not so different from its eastern cousins that we are familiar with. It is a small, fast-moving bird with dark glossy plumage so black that it seems to shimmer. In fact, when seen in bright sunlight, the Brewer’s blackbird can look an iridescent purple or green.
Numerous blackbirds inhabit the trees and bushes of our campground. Some of the locals are afraid of them and call them, “attack birds,” because of their fearless protective swooping when you get near their nest. The locals tell me that the attack birds have always been here but their nests are so well hidden that noone has ever been really sure where their nests are.
I don’t think anyone was really trying to find their nests because it only took me a couple of days to run across an attack bird nest — and I wasn’t even trying.
I set out to trim some dead branches out of the middle of a large lilac bush. I got my bypass loppers and a large bucket to put branches in and I waded in through the healthy branches and blossoms toward the dead section. That’s when the blackbirds started their frantic chittering and swooping at me.
Despite the ominous attack bird nickname, these birds hold no terror for anyone who has ever been divebombed and pecked in the top of the head by a southern mockingbird, so I continued my trimming.
I never did actually see the nest but it’s not too hard to deduce that I was getting warm by their behavior. In fact, I discovered that Brewer’s blackbirds have a good memory and definitely hold a grudge. Now, whenever the blackbirds see me within 30 or 40 yards of the bush that I trimmed, they start swooping and calling me disparaging names.
And then a couple of days ago I got out the hose and microfiber cleaner and soapy water and I washed all the road dirt and pollen off of my Airstream travel trailer. I worked on it until it was nice and shiny and you know what, those birds watched me cleaning that camper and they waited until I was finished and happy with the result — then they pooped all over my camper. It ended up much worse than before I washed it.
I decided that instead of Brewer’s blackbirds, I should call them Shylock birds after Shakespeare’s character that famously asked in The Merchant of Venice, “If you wrong us, shall we not revenge?”