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?”
“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.
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.”