Maggie Wright

The Comins’ and Goins’ of the Cholla Cactus Tree

Mrs. Bird and babies

Above painting titled “Where’s Mine?”  By Arlene Powers.

I have a true story to tell.  It’s about two brown birds… two brown birds that have curved bills and they live in the desert.  They are Curve-billed thrashers whom I have named Mr. and Mrs. Bird.  Brown birds? Thrashers?  Yick, Maggie, couldn’t you find a more interesting bird to write about?   Well, no.  These guys are special, at least, they are in my heart.  Here’s the story.

My first home here in Phoenix, Arizona, was like a little Doolittle paradise.  The backyard was luscious with three citrus trees (orange, grapefruit, and lemon), a pear tree, a grape vine, a plantain banana tree, pines, and many beautiful bushes.  The front yard had desert landscaping with a shady mesquite tree and a large Cholla cactus tree, as well as countless other cacti and rose bushes.  There was a 1500 gallon pond that was in an outdoor porch structure, just outside of my bedroom.  That’s where my beautiful 18-inch koi fish  lived.  It was a joy to live there.

All kinds of birds flocked to the yard: doves, wrens, finches, woodpeckers, quail, sparrows,
hummingbirds, blackbirds, and a few cardinals in the winter.  But there was one thrasher that stood out.  He did not stand out because of his color… he was plain brown.  But, it was his  attitude.  He pranced around that yard, chasing after all of the other birds when they got in his way.  He had pronounced himself King.  I named him Sir Thrasher because of his great skill at protecting his Cholla cactus tree.

Sir Thrasher’s wife, whom I named Lady Thrasher, had only one leg and no tail feathers.  They kept their nest in the cholla tree.  I took great joy at watching how this energetic one-legged wonder could whip around that cactus tree with only one leg and no tail feathers for balance, but she did it victoriously. She grabbed a twig here and a leaf there and meticulously built her nest.  I watched her perch on a cement wall, completely balanced, again with no tail and only one leg.  Sometimes, while perching on a tree, she leaned against a branch to give herself support.  As I watched, I wondered how much vigor and energy it must take to flit around that yard with only one leg and no tail feathers, but it did not seem to bother her at all.

Sir and Lady Thrasher were quite the pair.  They woke me up every morning with their “weet-weet” contact calls.  It was like clockwork, and it was the signal that got me up every morning.  While making breakfast and the morning MASH for my African grey parrot children, I could hear the “weet-weet” sounds coming through the exhaust fan.  It was constant and comforting, and it made me feel as if everything was right with my little paradise.

Lady Thrasher stopped coming to the tree because two feral cats had started to stalk
the yard.  Thankfully, I knew she was okay because I could still hear their “weet- weet” sounds all over the neighborhood, as she and Sir Thrasher communicated.  She continued to return to the yard to drink and bathe in the bird bath, but she never returned to the Cholla tree; therefore, I assumed that she had made a new nest somewhere else.

Finally, in the winter, the “weet-weet” sounds seemed to stop.   I don’t know what happened, but I assume that one of those cats had finally gotten to Lady Thrasher and her handicap.  It made me sad and lonely.

The next spring, Sir Thrasher attracted a new mate, whom I called Mrs. Bird.  And, again, the sweet medley sounds of the “weet-weets” finally filled the air. They promptly laid eggs and a young thrasher chick was born.  I watched Sir Thrasher and Mrs. Bird feed that chick, day after day.  As the days passed and the baby got older, he started to climb around and explore.  Finally, a few weeks later, he made the leap of faith and jumped.

Weeks following, I watched as Sir Thrasher and Mrs. Bird spent day after day teaching
that baby his new living skills.  It seemed that Sir Thrasher was the main teacher, while Mrs. Bird went back to nest to prepare to brood more chicks.

I loved to stand at the window with my African greys on my shoulders and watch the comings and goings of daddy and chick.  One morning, a hawk flew into the yard and snatched the baby away, right in front of us.  I screamed and cried because this chick had become part of the family.  My greys, Merlin, Sweetpea, and Kyo, were quiet all day after this horrific scene.

Four days later, as I drove into my driveway, I noticed a dead bird.  Oh, no!  It was Sir Thrasher!  He had been hit by a car!  I blessed him and buried him.  He had been “family” and I was devastated about it.

Imagine losing your child and husband, all in one week.  That’s hard for any human, and guess what?  It’s also hard for a bird.  Mrs. Bird was beyond devastated.  She was almost despondent.  She sat there in her nest, day after day and week after week.  There were no more “weet- weet” sounds.  She only left occasionally to get something to eat and then promptly returned to her nest.  When she was away, I checked the nest and it was empty.  There were NO EGGS… NO MATE… and NO CHICK.   This depressed bird just sat on an EMPTY nest, and this lasted day after day for about two months.

I was beside myself for her.  I spent time in the yard and sent her loving telepathic thoughts.  I pretended in my head and heart that I was holding and comforting her.  I imagined that I was helping her to release the intense pain that she was feeling.  I left food for her.

Finally, I noticed a new thrasher hanging out in the yard.  Wowie Zowie!  Mrs. Bird had a new boyfriend.  But unfortunately, he only lasted one day, and then she chased him out of the yard.  As days progressed, she seemed to have more energy and she put herself out there in the neighborhood, looking for a new boyfriend.  She reminded me of my days in the single scene in New York City in the 1980s.  If you weren’t out there in the restaurants and bars, you weren’t going to meet anyone to date.  So, I cheered her on.  Once again, the  “weet-weet” sounds filled the air.

During this time when Mrs. Bird was away from the yard more often to find a mate, I
remarked to Merlin that I missed the “weet-weet” sound.  That night, Merlin started saying “weet-weet” to me.  She understood what I had said!   How smart is that!?!  “Weet-weet” became our new in-house contact call.

Finally, Mrs. Bird found a new mate, whom I called Mr. Bird.  They made their home in the Cholla cactus tree.  A few years went by and they had several chicks every year, which my feathered grey kids and I were thrilled to witness.

I enjoyed helping Mr. and Mrs. Bird feed their babies.  At first, I purchased live-mealworms that I put in a little brown dish at the root of the Cholla tree.  But, it bothered me to serve up the live worms.  So, I started to purchase freeze-dried mealworms, instead.  The Birds did not take to this very easily.  They wanted their live worms, so I had to go back to the live worms, while at intervals, switching it up to freeze-dried ones.  After a while, they found themselves eating the freeze-dried ones, and I no longer had to feel sad for the little worms being set out to be eaten.

Once again, everything was calm and happy in Doolittle Paradise.  That is, until I realized that I had to move. My house was so deep under water that my only choice was to short-sell and find a new home.  So, I sold my house and moved approximately 45 miles to the west valley of the Phoenix area.

The new home was lovely and there was a yard-full of wonderful new birds and other creatures for my greys to meet.  But, as the weeks went on, my feathered kids remained very quiet.  Merlin had stopped doing the “weet-weet” calls.  They had to leave their buddies in the yard behind and they seemed sad and depressed.  I was also very sad, as I was missing Mr. and Mrs. Bird. I was hoping that things would get better with time for my grey companions, as they made new friends with the creatures in the new yard. But overtime still, there were no more “weet-weet” in-house contact calls… and the guys remained exceptionally quiet.

Three months later, there was a swish, swish sound coming from outside of my window.   I looked out and there were two brown birds… two Curve-billed thrashers swishing yard pebbles, looking for worms.  I had heard thrashers in the neighborhood when I first moved in, so at first, I thought nothing of it.  Then day after day, these two birds remained outside my window, looking for worms.  This is strange, I thought. Then, I noticed one thrasher hiding under the Mexican Bird-of-Paradise bush, just like Mr. and Mrs. Bird used to do in the other yard.  Could it be???

Could it be??? I brought out my first test.  It was their brown bowl containing freeze-dried mealworms.  Then I put it on a rock near the Mexican Bird-of-Paradise bush, which was similar to what I had done in Phoenix.  They took to it.  They pranced right up to that bowl and ate the mealworms.  Oh, my!  They looked like Mr. & Mrs. Bird did, and now, they behaved in the same manner.  They even immediately took to the freeze-dried mealworms, which had taken me a long time to acclimate them to.  On top of that, they were hanging out under my window, day by day, which the resident thrasher had never done.

Finally, I tried the ultimate test.  I brought Merlin to the window and asked her if this was Mr. and Mrs. Bird.  She looked over at them.  They stopped swishing the pebbles and looked back at her.  Then, Merlin said, “Weet-weet!  Weet-weet!”  Then I cried.  My thrasher babies had found us!!!

Once again, the “weet-weet” sound has become the contact call between Merlin and
me.  Mr. and Mrs. Bird have made a new nest in a nearby yard, but they still hang out in my yard under the Bird-of-Paradise bush, when they are not feeding babies.  They also frequently visit their brown dish to get the mealworms for their babies.

Just today, I hid the mealworm dish for a few hours because the quail were trying to team
up against the thrashers for the mealworms. Knock! Knock! Knock! Knock! What’s that?
I rushed over to my porch to see what all of the commotion was about.  It sounded like someone hammering on my porch.  I ran over and looked.  It was Mr. Bird.  Just like a woodpecker, he was knocking on the wooden porch rail, right where the bowl was supposed to be.  knock!  knock!  Knock! Knock!   ”Maggie, where’s my bowl?  I want my food!”  Now, how smart is that!?!

Yes.  Things are wonderful here in my new Doolittle paradise.



Copyright ©2013 Margaret T. Wright.  This article may not be reproduced in any form without the permission of the author.


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3 Responses to The Comins’ and Goins’ of the Cholla Cactus Tree

  1. Sue Stein says:

    HI Maggie,

    You just made me remember this– I had a hummingbird who recognized me year after year. I just loved her! I always sit on the front steps in the morning to have coffee in the summer, and she always buzzed me, and sometimes just hovered in front of my face. What a sweetie. And one day I was out in the pasture, far away from the house, and there she was– zooming around by some wildflowers. I saw her, she saw me, and I knew it was her, and she knew it was me. It was so cool!

    I didn’t see her last summer, so she must not have made it back from her winter grounds. I missed her a lot.

  2. Maggie says:

    Hi Sue,

    What a WONDERFUL story! Animals are so incredibly special. Maybe she’ll come back to your yard in a new incarnation this summer or next. Fingers crossed that she does…

  3. Chris says:

    Your stories just get better and better. Thanks for sharing. I expect a ‘Best Seller’ soon!
    Take Care,

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