Monday, April 16, 2012

The Erotic Sproing

"Come Fly with Me!"

 It's spring, and animals sproing. That's according to writer/farmer Catherine Friend in Sheepish: Two Women, Fifty Sheep & Enough Wool to Save the Planet (more on the book in a future entry). She has witnessed lambs leaping in the spring as if on springs. Go to this link to see a leap of joy captured by Davies up North.
No lambs roam the backyard of The Random Animal, but there are plenty of bunnies about to breed like rabbits. A few days ago at dusk two emerged from the dense lilac hedge they call home. One charged the other, who popped straight up and down. So the rabbit (the male?) turned and charged again. Another sproing. This was repeated several times, as if the couple were practicing for Cirque du Soleil. I tried to move closer to observe, but that drove them under the hedge. For a moment. The two emerged, sproinging, and then rested about 10 feet apart. The scientific term for this is "cavorting." One then stretched out and rolled over on its back, duff belly up. He/she rolled all the way over and back again, like a dog seeking a belly rub. Not the usual behavior of a prey animal.
Where'd she go? I wasn't done...

Also witnessed (not a voyeur, I swear)--a raucous ring around the tree game of Pileated woodpeckers. The dramatic red, black, white Pileated with its pterodactyl profile is usually shy, but this two yakked and spiraled up and down the tree even though an oblivious dog and human were nearby. Blue jays seem open to a three-way, or must prove themselves in competition. Deep in a thicket not yet leafed out a male jay threw his heart and lust into his throat with noises I never heard from a jay before, and they're not shy about making noise. A female perched, facing him, tilting her head back and forth as if gauging the testosterone of his racket. Above them was another male figuring out if he could butt in. Apparently a "Focus Female" starts with a group of followers and is courted until she knows The One. Like "The Bachelorette" without commercials and with better judgment.
Birds are less likely to sproing, but they can swoop dramatically.  Every spring a few witness the mid-air coupling vividly described in Walt Whitman's poem, "The Dalliance of Eagles":

Skirting the river road, (my forenoon walk, my rest,)
Skyward in the air a sudden muffled sound, the dalliance of the eagles,
The rushing amorous contact high in space together,
The clinching interlocking claws, a living, fierce, gyrating wheel,
Four beating wings, two beaks, a swirling mass tight grappling,
In tumbling turning clustering loops, straight downward falling,
Till o'er the river pois'd, the twain yet one, a moment's lull,
A motionless still balance in the air, then parting, talons loosing,
Upward again on slow-firm pinions slanting, their separate diverse flight,
She hers, he his, pursuing.

This year I was not fortunate enough, or lyrical enough, to witness and describe the mating of our national bird. Whitman places the male in the role of the pursuer, which may be accurate, but with eagles as with many raptors the female is the larger bird, probably because the female requires more mass for the energy demanding process of egg-laying. In March I saw two eagles circling each other over the Mississippi, only to fly to a more private part of the sky where my vision couldn't follow. About ten days ago in the same vicinity, an eagle flew back and forth carrying straw and twigs, probably to reinforce an already sizable nest. That nest may be one of the 36 recently counted by Minnesota wildlife researchers, as reported in The StarTribune.  Perhaps a reason for human sproinging is realizing that animals can thrive, despite all the mistakes we make that threaten to end their existence. In the 1960s, about 400 mating pairs were counted in the lower 48 states--a species dying from habitat loss, hunting, and the invasion of the pesticide DDT into their food chain. In Maine (my home state), the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife provides dramatically dotted maps to show Eagle recovery and nesting sites. Apparently, Doing It midair works.

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