Making Mistakes, Thrasher Style

Red bird of paradise bush

The thrasher outside my office window was fighting a small snake under the red bird of paradise bush. The bird, about the size of a robin, would advance, peck the head of the snake, then grab the neck and jump back, pulling the snake off the ground.

I watched this while I was on the phone. Thrashers are insect eaters, but have a curved, strong bill, so I wasn’t surprised to see him going after the snake. And it was a small snake–about as big around as a pencil. He may have thought it was a caterpillar and discovered it was too big to manage.

After about five minutes, the thrasher gave up and flew into the nearby ocotillo, where it warbled for a while, then flew off. He did not take the snake, so I wondered if he’d killed it.

After I’d completed the phone call, I went outside to take care of the snake. Checking under the bush, I saw what the battle was about. No snake.

Thrasher

The thrasher had attacked my drip irrigation hose, about the size of a pencil in diameter, and made of black rubber. The bird had worried about 18 inches of the hose out of the gravel and sand. The small gold-colored metal head was almost completely pulled off the hose. Dead, for sure.

What made me smile about this was that the bird eventually recognized that the hose was not a snake or a caterpillar.  The metal cap wasn’t a snake head. The bird did not slap himself on the head and berate himself. The bird did not kick the dirt and hang its head, embarrassed. The bird flew into a nearby tree, claimed its territory, and moved on.

Wildlife is smart that way. It doesn’t feel embarrassment, shame, or guilt. A mistake is a mistake. In this case, not deadly, so no harm done. (Well, as far as the bird was concerned. I’m going to need a new drip head to replace the shredded one.)

How smart we’d be if we could be the same way. Recognize the mistake, be OK with it, move on. Not dredge it up for years, worrying it like a sore tooth, making it into statements about our general character, intelligence, or emotional state.

Make a mistake, move on. Good lesson from a basic bird.

—Quinn McDonald learns from nature, which seems to have a lot to teach if we watch.