Animal friends

Indignity Vol. 4, No. 85

Animal friends
The Alligators, by John Ellsberry.

Alligators Just Want to Play


I WAS TRYING to look up something else through the arbitrary aperture of the archival internet when I came across an adorable yet melancholy passage in Edward Howe Forbush's 1925–1929 Birds of Massachusetts and Other New England States (Part II: Land Birds From Bob-Whites to Grackles), from his entry for the ruffed grouse: 

In June, 1904, rains continued to fall much of the time for about two weeks. This rainfall so raised the Musketaquid that the meadows were flooded, and the eggs and young of many birds were destroyed. For some time I had been watching three broods of Ruffed Grouse in the woods along the river, and one of these broods had been reduced to a single chick. On the 20th this grouse and her chick came to the cabin that I occupied. The mother halted within about twenty feet of the window, but the young bird "crying" plaintively came on, accompanied by a Song Sparrow. This sparrow attended the chick wherever it went, either hopping or running along with it on the ground or keeping near it on low branches. The chick could fly readily, but in its flights it was always accompanied by the attentive sparrow. At a slight sound in the cabin the mother became suspicious, and retired behind the log-built woodshed whence she took a path leading up the steep hillside at the rear. When she had reached a point on the hill that was higher than the roof of the shed, she called the young bird which immediately flew up to the front corner of the shed, alighting on the end of one of the logs and from there fluttered up to the roof from which it rejoined its mother on the steep hillside above. The Song Sparrow accompanied it on every step of its journey. For fifteen minutes while the birds were in sight, the sparrow never left its little companion, and the mother grouse seemed to take the escort as a matter of course. The two little birds wandered about together, going where they pleased, but always responding to the call of the mother. The Song Sparrow may have lost its brood in the freshet and found consolation in the company of its little companion.

(The Musketaquid is the Concord River, of Revolutionary War fame.)

Forbush appears to have been a fairly immersive naturalist, so maybe his tragic reading of the scene was right. But it seems strange that a song sparrow would have transferred its maternal feelings to a ruffed grouse chick. Baby song sparrows are helpless altricial nestlings, begging for grubs and insects; a ruffed grouse chick breaks out of the egg and sets off looking for a meal. The newborn ruffed grouse, moreover, is already near the size of an adult song song sparrow. At five days of age—when a song sparrow has progressed from "uncoordinated wrigglings" to "incipient preening motions" and possibly "cowering"—the grouse chick is learning to fly

Maybe the grouse chick reminded the song sparrow of an older song sparrow fledgling, when it's scuttling around in the bushes for a week or so before it can get aloft. But what if the birds just liked hanging out with each other? Sometimes animals enjoy the company of other animals. Coyotes and badgers hunt ground squirrels together, and a survey of hunting pairs' behavior found "at least 36 episodes of sustained nasal-nasal contact, or body contact while resting near each other or during activity or play initiation by the coyote." 

"Badgers and coyotes played together longer than 10 seconds four times," the researchers noted.

The evidence of different species playing together is extensive, though researchers surveying the examples found the literature biased toward domestic animals and YouTube. Still, the researchers did find plenty of cross-species play, including  "a single observation of an ostrich playing with a jackal, though this observation came from a table without further explanation." 

Among the cases of interspecies recreation cited in the roundup was one of animals playing across the boundary between warm-blooded and cold-blooded, from a paper by Vladimir Dinets of the University of Tennessee: 

I observed apparent interspecific play between an American alligator and a river otter (Lontra canadensis) in Big Cypress National Preserve (Florida, USA), in a bayou inhabited by 8-12 subadult alligators and regularly visited by a group of 4-6 otters. The otters would often harass the alligators by approaching them closely, nipping on their tail tips, and splashing water onto their heads. Most alligators responded to harassment by submerging, but one individual ~1.5 m long responded by lunging at the otters every time they got close. By the third day of observation the otters focused most of their attention on that individual. On one occasion an otter slipped on a steep bank of the bayou and was grabbed across the chest by the alligator. The alligator retreated from the bank and pulled the wriggling otter underwater as if attempting to drown it, but after about 5 s raised its head and released the otter, apparently unharmed.
The interactions between this alligator and the otters then continued for two more days, at which point the bayou dried out and all otters and alligators moved elsewhere.
upload in progress, 0


Speaking of animal companionship, the Washington Post asked me if I had any thoughts about having pets, and most of my thoughts were about how annoying our cat is:

Do we deserve our pets? The question was on my mind as I crawled over the kitchen floor in the 5 a.m. hour, swabbing with a damp paper towel at the shards of glass left after the cat smashed a jam jar on the floor. She’d done it on purpose; I knew that as soon as the sound of shattering glass woke me in the dark. At bedtime, someone had used the jar to get a drink of water and had left it on the counter, and the cat, sensing dawn was near, or near enough, decided to see whether knocking it off the counter would get the people up and moving.
upload in progress, 0


Very blue sky with some cloud puffs on the side

New York City, May 19, 2024

★★★★★ The honey locust leaves moved bright and dark green against the sky in their layers of light and shadow. Trampled samaras were breaking down into skeletons of themselves on the sidewalk. Somewhere, for no imaginable reason, an air conditioner was roaring. Doves squeaked and clattered among the branches out back. The afternoon sky was almost cloudless, with one or two puffs down between buildings in the bright southern haze. Damp, fragrant air blanketed the lawn above the Pool. A man sat on a rock by the water, pointing his phone camera at a fish dangling from a portable fish scale in his other hand. The breast of a grackle flashed emerald with each step it took. It uttered a few soft electronic twangs and then moved along. A gadwall cruised on the water nearby. Huge leaves on skinny tulip poplar saplings undulated in the breeze. Everywhere people were calm and unhurried. A bullfrog made its booming, grinding call. Bright spots of sun cut the deep shade on the uphill path. At the hilltop, a man and a boy played catch with a tennis ball, while a dog stood by waiting to chase down an errant throw. 

upload in progress, 0


CLICK ON THIS box to enjoy today's Indignity Morning Podcast:

Indignity Morning Podcast No. 277: The voice of omniscience.


WE PRESENT INSTRUCTIONS in aid of the assembly of a sandwich selected from Mrs. Ericsson Hammond's Salad Appetizer Cook Book, by Maria Matilda Ericsson Hammond. Published in 1924, and now in the Public Domain and available at for the delectation of all.

Caviar en Celeri a V Octavius
For Six Persons

Select even tender celery knobs, peel them and cut them so they all stand evenly and scoop them out leaving room for the caviar. Stand them in a saucepan with sufficient water to cover them, a tablespoon of lemon juice, and a small pinch of salt and let them cook until they are tender, then put them on a pan, put a piece of butter in each, sprinkle with pepper and put in the oven with some of the stock and braise them for about ten minutes, basting them. Take them out, put them on a broiler and glaze with the tomato glaze. Fill with caviar; decorate round them in circle through a fine paper tube with stirred butter. Put them in the center of the slices of bread that have been cut out with a round biscuit cutter and spread with butter and caviar. Also decorate all around the sandwich with stirred butter and arrange them on a platter in the form of a ring. Garnish with parsley and serve as an appetizer before the soup.

If you decide to prepare and attempt to enjoy a sandwich inspired by this offering, be sure to send a picture to 

upload in progress, 0

Supplies are really and truly running low of the second printing of 19 FOLK TALES, still available for gift-giving and personal perusal! Sit in the gathering heat with a breezy collection of stories, each of which is concise enough to read before the sun gets high.

HMM WEEKLY MINI-ZINE, Subject: GAME SHOW, Joe MacLeod’s account of his Total Experience of a Journey Into Television, expanded from the original published account found here at Hmm DailyThe special MINI ZINE features other viewpoints related to an appearance on, at, and inside the teevee game show Who Wants to Be A Millionaire, available for purchase at SHOPULA.

upload in progress, 0