Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

April 7, 2011

Objects in Mirror are Closer Than They Appear

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 9:01 pm

You’ve seen it many times. That climatic scene, following a long chase through an abandoned carnival ground, where the evil villain finally confronts the good guy in a hall of mirrors. “Go ahead and shoot me,” the baddie sneers as multiple images of himself appear before our hero –reflected in a dozen mirrors. “But,” he sarcastically points out, “you don’t know which one is the real me dew y-e-w? Perhaps y-e-w need some time for… (cinematic pause) …reflection?” An echoey round of “Ya ha ha ha ha’s ”  is clipped short by the crash of bullet shattered glass. The mortally wounded villain falls to the ground only inches behind our hero who leveled his shot over his left shoulder. “Reflections,” the hero comments, “don’t have garlic on their breath.”

O.K., I made that ending up, but my point is that while we humans are often temporarily fooled by mirror images, we generally figure it out. We know that if the face in the mirror looks like us then it is us. That reflected face may not be a pleasant one (especially in the early light of day) but deep inside we still know. A different face in the mirror means that either you are a werewolf or are looking at a picture and not a mirror.  We not only know what mirrors are but we possess an ability to recognize ourselves in it.

Unfortunately, birds are not gifted with such reflective abilities. They are hard-wired to view a reflection as another bird (an incredibly handsome one, I might add).  Springtime is typically the season where our neighborhood birds begin attacking themselves. Blood is running high this time of year as rival males come to blows over turf and fair maidhens. Robins and cardinals will hurl themselves at their window reflections with vengeance. Because the “opponent” (aka glass) in these cases is un-yielding, the intensity of frustration often approaches violence. Sometimes the battle ends in a broken neck for both combatants – the real one and the reflected one.

Yesterday morning I saw a situation which one-uped these typical one-on-one battles. I caught my neighborhood Tufted Titmouse engaged in a three-way argument with others of his kind. All three of the birds were equally matched because, of course, they were identical. This poor little fellow stumbled upon the one place on the side of my vehicle where the side mirror reflected the window and vice-versa.  By perching on the window sill he could see himself directly reflected in the window and the side mirror at the same time. When he turned to face himself he was confronted with another self sneaking up from behind. He was trapped in a hall of mirrors.

I grabbed my camera and began filming as soon as I realized what was going on. I posted one short sequence (see here) for you to watch, but actually filmed much more. This frustrated little tit went back and forth like this for at least five minutes before my efforts to record the situation finally frightened him off.  (When I say finally frightened him off, I mean just that. He did not want to leave and continually came back down to the car in order to continue the battle). Who knows how long he’d been at it before I arrived or how long he would have continued.

When you watch the video you’ll hear the moments when he actually lands a blow on the mirror as a tap sound. Otherwise you can see the obvious confusion as he shifts his gaze from window to mirror and back. I will say one thing, however. This guy never got completely bent out of shape. Yes, he elevated his crest a bit higher on occasion and peeped a few times, but overall he maintained his dignity.

Heck, in the end he won. My getting to work meant driving away in that evil hall of mirrors. I did have to get to work (imagine using the excuse that an angry titmouse kept me at bay for hours). As I backed out of the driveway I thought I detected a high-pitched, and slightly sinister “Ya ha ha ha ha” in the distance.


  1. A very funny account. Great post.

    Comment by Hugh — April 7, 2011 @ 9:25 pm

  2. See, determination always wins!

    Comment by Kathy Dennis — April 7, 2011 @ 9:57 pm

  3. This reveals what great observation skills yield… the tiny, golden little nuggets of stories otherwise unseen and untold. Life is all around us!

    Comment by Kathy — April 9, 2011 @ 4:05 am

  4. hehe… in our district does so mockingbird

    Comment by Sergey — April 26, 2011 @ 1:39 pm

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