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I am a gardener and a birdwatcher from way back. During the 90's, I lived in a small townhouse in Tallahassee. My yard was tiny, but there were lots of woods around and it was prime bird habitat. I gardened every chance I got. I soon noticed that when I was gardening, there was frequently a brown thrasher on a low branch of a small tree in the middle of my yard. After working in one spot, as I moved on to another area he would land on the ground where I had just been, feasting on worms, grubs and bugs that I had exposed as I moved the dirt and mulch around. For a while he kept his distance, flying back to the low branch if I came too close. But he slowly got used to me, and would hop around on the ground following me. Before long, he'd hang out a couple of feet away and charge in for a tasty morsel as soon as I dug it up. This went on for a couple of years.
One spring day while I was raking the front yard, he flew over to me and landed on the ground right beside my foot. He started hopping and hobbling toward my neighbor's yard, dragging his wings and watching me over his shoulder. He'd hop a few feet away, dragging his wings and watching me, then fly back and start this behavior all over again, always moving away from me in the same direction. I stopped raking and watched him intently, trying to figure out what was happening. He did not seem to be hurt, but he was acting strangely. I knew that birds used this behavior to detract predators from their nests, pretending to be injured to lure the predator away. But I was not a predator, and he knew that. Additionally, there was no nest in my front yard. He repeated this behavior over and over, getting more frantic each time. I began to wonder, could it be that he wanted me to follow him? So I did. He kept hopping and hobbling, dragging his wings; but when he realized I was following him this time, he kept going and picked up speed, heading for a large shrub in my neighbor's yard. He kept looking over his shoulder, seemingly to be sure that I was still following him.
Nearing the shrub, I realized there was some commotion going on in there. Then I heard the emphatic "SMACK!" of his mate's alarm call coming from inside the shrub. He hopped right up to the shrub, turned and watched me and sat very still on the ground. Looking into the shrub, I realized it contained a nest AND a large white oak snake trying to get to the nest, being slowed down a bit by a very upset mother. My brown thrasher had actually come to get me, knowing I would help them! Using the rake, I got the snake out and put it in the bag with the leaves I had raked up earlier. I checked on the family and all were safe and sound, and not at all concerned that I was so close by. I then relocated the snake a few miles away. I am still amazed that this bird not only trusted me to help, but also figured out a way to communicate to me what he needed. It still awes me, and brown thrashers will always have a special place in my heart.
2nd Place - Trust Me by Jeanne Kern of Nebraska
3rd Place - Moe the Toad by Annie Johns of Ohio
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