Tuesday, November 10, 2009

"Vecinos Silvestres" (Wild Neighbors) Part 1

The racket from my back patio in the early morning can be outrageous. In describing these particular neighbors, I prefer the Spanish word, "escandalo," uproar with hints of scandal, indignation and disorder, to the mundane "ruido" (noise). When the neighbors have a noisy

party, maybe drink a little too much beer and crank up the music to "eleven," or perhaps the music and party spills into the street and a heated discussion breaks out at 2 or 3 in the morning, Mexicans may refer to it as "escandaloso." And when these particular non-human neighbors are around, they remind me of nothing more than unruly guests at a "fiesta escandalosa."

One of the culprits who has awakened me on various occasions is pictured here, breakfasting on pistachios from my neighbor's back-yard tree. A fairly large population of these Red Lored Parrots (at least as far as I can identify them) or "Loros," has adapted to and lives in the very center of Mèrida, a city with a human population of nearly one million. I have been told conflicting stories about their origins: some say that these parrots are native to this area, others say that a population was established when some pet birds escaped. My reference books indicate that the Red Lored does not live in Yucatàn, but does exist along the southern fringes of neighboring Quintana Roo state, bordering on Belize, and presumably the range extends south of there. Although I don't think so, perhaps I have mis-identified the bird. There is a similar-looking species that is native to Yucatàn.

Whatever the facts of the matter are, these parrots are flourishing in Mèrida. The birds are always present, but their appearance in my own backyard depends upon the seasonal availability of fruits and nuts. At times they bed down in neighboring trees and begin their raucous chatter, which sounds to me like parakeets on steroids, at sunup. When food is not available nearby, I see or hear them flying over early in the morning, leaving nesting or sleeping areas to feed, and then again in the evening on their return to shelter for the night. I have seen flocks of more than thirty but it is more common here to see two to twelve together. Even at a distance or in poor light they are easy to spot, due to their constant chatter and distinctive look, with plump bodies, big blunt heads, stubby tails and short wings that they must exercise with comical rapidity to stay aloft.

The meek and tranquil personality of this wild neighbor could not be more different from that of the first. This "Tortolita," or Mourning Dove was one of many who have chosen to nest amongst bananas that grow along one side of the back patio and provide me with breakfast fruit most of the year. The only sound I have ever heard these birds utter is a very soft and sad "ooWOO, ooWOO," which appears to be associated with mating; a similar sounding call may be used by adults to attract strayed young.

These birds are ubiquitous. I have seen up to a dozen in my back garden area at one time, and have had as many as three pairs nesting in my yard at once. The females are a dull gray; males a dusty rose color. This one peering suspiciously out at me between green bananas is a male; Mourning Dove pairs appear to equally share egg-sitting and food-hunting chores. The great thing about this nesting situation is that the cupped form of the hands of fruits and large leaves of the banana plants provide natural protection, not much nest-construction is required, and the eggs can't roll out.
The two eggs develop and chicks grow at an amazing rate. Evolving from a tiny, thimble-sized, naked black lump upon hatching to a fluffy hen-egg sized fledgling, takes only a couple of weeks.

Something that surprises those of us who grew up in northern latitudes is that birds like these can manage to bring up several new generations of young in one season. I witnessed one pair of these birds raise three broods this past summer. And inevitably, they lose young, either to predators, like cats, possums, rats, and other predator/opportunists, such as Great-Tailed Grackles (known here by their Mayan name as K'aues), or from parasites, chills suffered during sudden drenching rains, and falls from nests. I have witnessed the drama of all of these accidents of nature in my own few square meters of back yard.

I usually let nature take its course. One nest this year was inside my house, in a vine that grows in the interior patio, which is walled in but open to the sky. One evening I heard a hollow smack, like the sound of an orange dropping on pavement, and sure enough, one of the chicks was on the floor. It looked badly injured, so rather than try to lift it back up to its precarious perch in the nest and possibly spooking the other chick, I made a nest on the floor, right below, out of a rag, expecting that its returning parents would find and take care of it. It was no use; the chick only made it until morning. I think that the adult birds know when a cause it lost. To my knowledge they never attended to the injured baby. They did manage to nurture the dead bird's nest mate to young adulthood.

On other occasions I have taken a more active role. I have a laundry and storage room that is not completely enclosed, and flying animals can easily enter. Tortolitas frequently attempt to nest inside, and usually I spot their nest building in time to discourage them before they have laid their eggs. However, they build quickly, and a few times I have come home to discover a new nest, complete with eggs, in the area. Here are a couple of examples.

The nest on top of the door failed because the ledge was too narrow, and eggs kept rolling off. After finding the second smashed egg on the floor, I figured I was doing the birds a favor by taking away the nest and forcing them to look for a new nest site. The nest on the shelf by the water heater was a different story. When first I noticed the nest, eggs were already present. All went well until the chicks were starting to test their wings. They would fly around in the safety of the laundry room, and each night end up back safely on the nest, until one night, not paying attention, I went in, flipped on the light and spooked the whole family. The adult flew out the open door, one chick ended up under the washing machine and the other behind the water heater. I managed to wedge the chicks out of their predicaments, and kept them in the house until the next morning when I was able to place them back in the laundry area, on top of the washer, where they reunited with their parents. A day later, they were all gone. About a week later I saw the same pair of adults, accompanied by one of their offspring, now nearly identical in size and appearance to its father, resting in the orange tree.

Here are Mom and Dad, on another occasion, surprised in their sleep among the oranges.

I have many wild neighbors. More about them later.


  1. you are such a soft touch, Marc....rescuing birdies and all. Love your new blog....keep writing. Makes me less homesick. Hope to be there over Christmas or shortly thereafter.

  2. Howdy Marc..... your Mom gave me the blogs coordinates. Fun to read from this Sitka perspective. I'm the guy who eats with your parents almost everyday at the senior center. And works there. Fun read on the local parrots. Best wishes, BoB G.

  3. You are so right about our communion with animals! (I believe that comment was in another post, but....) I have a neighbor, who cannot speak or hear. But she loves dogs. And one day I gave her a glass bottle designed as a fish. She was so pleased! She accepts many items, probably for resale, but I could tell from her smile that she was probably going to keep the Fish for herself.

    I go through bouts of mild depression, I must admit; but what helps me so often ARE the animals! Thanks so much for identifying the bird Tortolita I have roosting on an upstairs window pane. She's finally returned, and I smile each morning, as I say, "Hello, mama bird." I expect to see the babies soon.

  4. Great shots. You have an interesting way of melding your observations of fauna with local culture, it really helps me to get a sense of place.


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