Mack the Knife

Oh, the shark, babe, has such teeth, dear – And it shows them pearly white…
(Bobby Darin singing the 1959 hit, “Mack the Knife”)

“And be careful not to turn your back on # 4-13 when you’re bent down cleaning up the spilled food from under those feeders. He’ll give your back a love tap with his beak that will leave one heck of a bruise. In fact, if you want, I’ll write the word “Mother” under it with red magic marker when we get back to the blind and you’ll have a “tramp stamp” tattoo that will be with you the rest of your life.”

“But how will I know which one is 4-13”? the Disney zoo keeper asked me.

“Easy,” I replied, smiling. “He’ll be the one humming, “Mack the Knife.”

“Mack the Who?”

“Never mind.”

“Just a jackknife has old MacHeath, babe. And he keeps it out of sight”

All of us have at some time in our lives met someone who just talks and talks and talks, but no matter how long they talk, they just never get to the point.  #4-13 is not one of those. To him, time is a precious commodity and a peck is worth a thousand words. He gets right to the point by pecking an unsuspecting you in the back so hard that you want to scream that scream you screamed as a baby when that mean white coated, be speckled doctor nailed you in your lily white bum with that giant stainless hypodermic needle he borrowed from his brother-in-law, the bovine veterinarian. “This hurts me more than it does you” echoes in my ear to this day.

Now, all this would not be a cause for mention if it were done by any other bird. I mean, as the poet said, “A peck is a peck is a peck.” No big deal, right. But not so for #4-13. A peck from him could result in a trip to the Emergency Room for the unsuspecting crane wrangler.  People who have experienced his talents often comment that his mother may have been a crane but that his father must have been a “lawn dart.” A sort of designer crane. Not so.

“You know when that shark bites with his teeth, babe. Scarlet billows start to spread”

In point of fact, it all began back at Patuxent when he was a chick. One night, he badly bruised his upper beak… probably against the pen fencing. As a result, his upper beak doesn’t grow as fast as his lower beak, which turned his lower beak into a stiletto-like instrument of communication. It has become to him what a sword is to Zorro.

“Fancy gloves, oh, wears old MacHeath, babe. So there’s never a trace of red.”  

4-13 and his not quite right upper mandible.

4-13 and his not quite right upper mandible.

Early on, we proposed to resolve the situation and make it as difficult for him to get to the point as it is for the rest of us by dremeling off his under bite, which was, in retrospect, about as compassionate as giving Samson a haircut. However, we were then assured by a higher authority that the daily wear and tear of probing the earth’s depths for food would take care of the rest. And it has. The beak has remained the same length though the years. But more to the point, the extra three sixteenth’s of an inch presents no problems for him at all. He beaks up the smallest speck of crane chow with delicate grace and aplomb. And besides, as Joe Botchagaloop, the Poet Lauriat of New Jersey, used to say, “It’s not the first six feet that makes a man tall, but the last few inches.”

“And that someone sneakin round the corner. Could that someone be Mack the Knife”

Interestingly enough, there is a beneficial biological side to all of this that even Charlie Darwin would appreciate. Chances are good that evolution will step in and pass this “getting right to the point” gene from #4-13 to his future generations and that besides improving their ability to communicate, this adaptation might allow them to better protect their young from predation.

In the predator rich environs of Wisconsin, what self-respecting raccoon, mink, otter, weasel, fisher, badger, coyote, wolf, bobcat, feral cat, snapping turtle, great horned owl, bald or golden eagle, hawk, crow, raven, black flies, etc. (are you starting to get the picture? Be glad they don’t have all of these predators at Wood Buffalo!) wants to get his or herself harpooned by a whooping crane “Captain Ahab” parent while predating a chick. It’s just bad karma. “Thar she blows!”

“Now d’ja hear about Louis Miller?  He disappeared, babe.  After drawin’ out all his hard earned cash. And now MacHeath spends just like a sailor. Could it be our boy’s done something rash”

Then there’s the advantage of enhanced ability to locate food – “to boldly probe where no beak has probed before.” And finally, perhaps the most important advantage of all; the ability to pole vault with acrobatic precision over obstacles to better recognition of reality from a standing start… always a potentially useful maneuver in an election year.

“And that line forms on the right, babe”

Which all goes to make the point that when Mother Nature smiles at you, you had best just shrug your shoulders and smile back… even if your bottom lip is bigger than your upper… and it hurts and makes you look funny doing it.

So…“Bring it on home, Bobby.”

“Now that Mackey’s… back in town.”

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  1. Catherine Wohlfeil March 8, 2016 10:15 pm

    Whether or not 4-13 passes on his rather multipurpose beak style, his courage and boldness will be reflected in future generations, protecting them as they grow. They will grow to fight “dragons” both perceived or real, environmental or internal. Number 4-13 was the first crane I truly fell for, be it his character or strength to not be deterred by boundaries or limitations. He is, and always will be, my favorite. Fly Fletcher Lynd… Fly…

    P.S. — Brooke – Great writing. : )

  2. thunder March 7, 2016 8:42 pm

    OK, First you give us a song for the day that just won’t…Leave. Then a mind picture of a tramp stamp. Still smiling over that one. Who would of guessed 4-13 would get the last laugh. Sorry about your bruise. You know what they say about pay back!

    Thank you Brooke for another great update. Pictures are always a Bonus! I cannot tell you how special each post is to everyone here.

  3. Kasie March 7, 2016 5:35 pm

    That’s very interesting info about #4-13! Thanks for telling us in such a creative way, Brooke.

  4. Elsie Sealander March 7, 2016 4:06 pm

    Brooke, are you saying that the Whooping Crane uses it’s beak as as defense against predators? That must then be a defensive instinct. I think Capt. Ahab had the killer instinct when it came to Moby Dick. Great post !

  5. Margie Tomlinson March 7, 2016 2:37 pm

    Another great, REAL story, Brooke! THANK YOU SO MUCH! Makes my day special! Just fell in love with #4-13. Keep ’em coming, Crane Daddy. <3

  6. Mindy March 7, 2016 1:40 pm

    I just love #4-13! Thank you for the great picture, background and story! Sorry you got “the point”….

  7. Sue March 7, 2016 9:58 am

    Thank you Brooke. What a great read to wake up to! Are you keeping all your funny and informative pieces to include in your book? You’re a great writer. Four-thirteen is beautiful, even if he does have an overbite. He probably bit you because he has an inferiority complex. 9-13 hasn’t been back to Paynes Prairie since last year. When is OM having a meet and greet so we can visit and hopefully see the cranes and meet you?

  8. P. Doms March 7, 2016 9:18 am

    Nothing better than starting the day off with a out loud laugh~~ And learn something new, to boot… Thanks…

  9. Lindi Allen March 7, 2016 9:15 am

    You might need a bullet proof vest to protect your back from him. 🙂

  10. anna osborn March 7, 2016 8:57 am

    Wonderful Monday Morning story. Good luck to4-13; may he fight off any predator coming near him….Agree with Shirley.

  11. Pete Weber March 7, 2016 8:38 am

    If the underslung mandible is due to tangling with the fence as a child, Jean Baptiste Lamarck would agree with you about future generations- but he would be wrong. If,however the fence incident was “incidental” (pun intended) and 4-13 was genetically preprogrammed to have an underbite (gene recombination or misreading the code does amazing things) then Charlie D would agree about 4-13’s progeny.

  12. Leota Hopper March 7, 2016 8:32 am

    Great article Brooke, it kept me laughing at #4-13 and I’ll keep an eye out for #4-13 and make sure I’m not bend over nor will I have my back to #4-13. LOL

  13. Betsy March 7, 2016 8:23 am

    Great essay incorporating Mack the Knife! Some of us are old enough to remember how to dance to it! Hope 4-13 makes it to adulthood and is able to reproduce and protect his progeny with that beak…..

  14. Barb March 7, 2016 8:23 am

    You have a wonderful way in which you paint a picture with words. Thanks for the illustration.

  15. Shirley Green March 7, 2016 7:29 am

    Kurt Weill would love you. Just thinking of Mack the Knife as a whooper makes me laugh. And with that list of predators it’s amazing any chicks survive. Wish cranes nested in trees, not on the ground. Thank you again, Brooke, for a good morning chuckle and a wonderful crane photo.