Mourning bird

I was home last Wednesday the 12th, sitting upstairs at the computer around noon. Downstairs, something nailed the sliding glass door leading to the patio with a loud BONK! By the time I got to the scene, I guessed what I would find. Sure enough, a dead bird, in this case a female California quail. These birds are quite common in my area, but this was the first time that a quail had ever done the “windowpane kamikaze” bit. It was odd because the blinds had been pulled. And yet, she still smashed into it.

So there she was. Stone cold, lights-out dead. I don’t know why, but I let her lay there. It didn’t take long for her corpse to attract a very interested party, namely her mate. As I watched from inside, I saw him approach her, look around, look around some more, and then just settle in to hang out. It seems easy enough to figure out his plan: wait for her to pop up, shake it off, and get back to quail business.

The night passed. The morning came. I went outside and snuck a peek. He’s there, vigilantly participating in his vigil. Good for you, I think, and resolve to leave him be. I can respect his grieving, if indeed that’s what he’s doing. I’m curious to see what sort of “wild kingdom” moments might lay ahead with this little drama. He stood on her and pulled at her face with his beak to—what? Stir her?

Friday morning. Saturday morning. He still hangs near. OK, now this is getting a little weird. As of Saturday noon, it’s a full 72-hour watch he’s pulled off. He still doesn’t do much; just stands patiently by, only to toodle off into the brush when he sees me spying on him. And as of Sunday noon, he’s now been there four days waiting for her to “wake up.” The ants have found the body; so have the flies. She’s beginning to get a bit gamey. I moved her body out a ways from the patio into the dirt. He didn’t seem to mind, and he still carries on.

At first, I was touched by his raw and dogged devotion. Now, my opinion of him has degraded. I mean, am I now witnessing the reality that he is, in truth, quite stupid? A true birdbrain? Do these birds have any recognition of the state of being called death? Before this episode, I would have guessed yes, but now, I don’t know. Does one need a minimal amount of gray matter in one’s head to accurately process the concept of death? It seems he’s still waiting for her to wake up, even as the ants crawl over her eyeballs.

It’s now Monday morning. He hasn’t left her side for 117 hours. I mean, devotion is devotion, but this poor slob just does not appear to have any kind of plan B whatsoever. If I were one of his pals, I’d be watching him very carefully. Maybe take him out for a few beers and a long talk. He’s obviously a complete mess.