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Tales From the Bark Side Column: The angry oriole who sang for his supper

Welcome back to the bark side of life here in Ottertail, where spring evidently hasn't sprung yet. In fact, as I write this column on a Monday morning, the trees are bowing to each other with heavy laden branches of fluffy white frosting.

Winter hasn't quite let loose its grip on northwest Minnesota. Last week I saw people in shorts and tank tops and it may have been too much for Mother Nature to be mocked in such a fashion before she is through with doling out her measure of winter misery.

The migratory fowl have been here for over a week, and they seem to be as confused as do we frail humans. Let me illustrate my point. We, like many Minnesotans, have a number of bird feeders outside our living room windows. These feeders are snuggled next to a tall pine tree in which the wild flock sequester themselves before descending upon the feeders or the ground adjacent to them.

During this most recent snowstorm, a rather despondent-looking robin sat on a branch closest to the window and stared in at us in disgust; giving us the dirtiest look imaginable. I'm sure if he had a watch with date and time on his little birdie leg, he'd motion with his other leg that the month and date of his arrival was correct.

What was this cold white stuff on the ground that hid his worms and grubs that he so desired? He was not a happy camper.

I think birds do reason to a certain extent... but do they possess the analytical powers that other creatures do? An American kestrel (better known as a sparrow hawk) visited our feeding area yesterday and the dark eyed juncos, house sparrows, chickadees and nuthatches all scattered into the brush and trees. Their constant vigilance kept them aware of their environment and the chance of imminent danger.

The predator left, and all the birds returned to their pecking and seeking sustenance. I have another example that might lead us to believe that wild birds can reason.

It was five summers ago and life was warm and comfortable. I had been working in the garden most of the afternoon and returned to the house; tired, sweaty, and in much need of a hot shower. After finding solace in the shower, I decided to take a short nap and relax in splendor under the ceiling fan that rotated cool air around the east-facing room. I was somewhere between REM (rapid eye movement) and deep sleep when I was rudely awakened by a scratching and pecking sound upon the screened window above my head. There, staring in at me with dark, beady eyes, was a Baltimore oriole cocking his head from side to side in a rather demonstrative fashion.

I rolled over and tried my best to ignore the famous fowl, and almost succeeded, when he chose to continue his assault upon my window. I slung myself out of bed and peered out the window toward the tree, which had a plate of grape jelly hanging from one of the limbs. The plate was empty, and evidently the stomach of the bird from Baltimore was also empty.

I resigned myself to go downstairs, retrieve the empty plate, fill it, and then return it to where the angry oriole was patiently (loosely defined at that moment) waiting on a branch high above the feeder. Once he gorged himself with the tasty treat laid before him, he gave me a recital of his favorite songs for the rest of the afternoon. I don't know if he sang out of gratitude but around here, you have to sing for your supper.

The "Logic vs. Instinct" contest is still going on and will continue throughout the summer. I'd like to hear from some of you readers that I know have some great tales to tell.

You can write to me at Keith Alan Ross, Richville, MN 56576, phone me at 218-495-2195 or send me an e-mail with your story at

This year, we should have some good prizes for our winners... more to come on that subject at a later date. You can buy a copy of Tales From The Bark Side (my book) at both Detroit Lakes locations of the Red Willow; the one in the mall or the one down the hill at the corner of Washington and Willow streets.

That does it for this week. I'm looking forward to receiving more of your great tales. Until next time...