Thursday, July 17, 2008


For most of this spring and summer Mars and I have been watching the bird babies on our property progress from nestling to fledgling to juvenile. It is one of the rites of passage that we get to witness each year because we bribe the animals to stay and perform for us by keeping our bird feeders up and running all four seasons. Those that leave for the colder months always seem to return at the appropriate times when the weather warms.

Our Republican friends frown on this year-round indentureship saying that the birds need to learn to become self-sufficient. And providing a quick and easy food to them when other more natural sources of sustenance are readily available in the wild weakens their character and will eventually turn the entire species into whiney victims.

Our bleeding heart liberal amigos, on the other hand, say that we cannot do enough for Mother Nature's creatures to atone for turning their physical world into a human-centric amusement park of dubious value and leaving them to struggle for survival in the shards that we have left for them.

Not being terribly political however Mars and I do it purely for the entertainment. And watching the kids grow up and leave home is a big part of it.

We don't really have that much land -- about one quarter acre -- but the bushes and trees that decorate the property apparently provide a friendly enough environment to support a decent amount of avian procreation. Still we really do not see the young 'uns during the time of their nestling confinement. With rare exceptions the stick houses are placed in nook and crannies that neither Mars nor I come in contact with during our daily rounds. And if we do accidentally intrude we are loudly scolded for our miscreant behavior and immediately absent ourselves from the scene.

The one exception this year is a family of sparrows that has taken residence in the hollowed out core of a dead branch on the Flowering Crab tree just outside of our family room window. We have not actually seen the nest itself, or the eggs, or even the little nestlings in their entirety. We have however caught glimpses of their endlessly open beaks poked hopefully out of the front door opening. And watched the fruitless efforts of the dutifully beleaguered parents to satisfy their demands. This has gone on for weeks and weeks. Either the babies have gotten too big to leave, or sparrows breed multiple times per season at an alarmingly rapid rate.

The main attraction of the moment is however the baby grackle. These blue-green glossy blackbirds are really too large to eat at our feeders. But the experienced adults persist in trying and occasionally succeed in twisting their oversize bodies around the perch in such a way that allows them to contort their beaks onto the seed trough.

Not so with junior who, like most fledglings, is the same physical size as its parents. There is a thin, dead branch hanging about eight inches in front of the feeder. The bottom of the branch is just about eye level with the feeder's perch. Other birds -- cardinals, chickadees, and sparrows -- use the branch as a waiting room while others are dining. When seating does become available they hop delicately onto the metal base and begin eating.

The baby grackle however, either because he is not able to master the short leap of faith to the feeder or, once there, is not sure how to wrap himself into position, attempts to straddle the space with one foot on the branch and the other on the perch. Of course both the branch and the feeder begin to move further apart at this point, usually resulting in a sudden, inglorious descent to the ground on the part of the grackle. He then flies up to our birdbath (presumably to cool his temper), returns to the branch, and sits in that spot screeching for his parents to feed him.

In the beginning they took pity and provided seeds to him by reaching across from the feeder. Lately they have taken to sitting on an adjacent branch and rotating their heads around, looking everywhere except at their offspring. Sometimes the unanswered whining goes on for thirty minutes or more before they all give up and go home.

The young grackle is hardly emaciated looking, so he is getting his nourishment someplace -- perhaps even where nature intended that he should. And eventually he will become able to feed himself and leave home

Until then we are just happy that he is getting enough to eat to give him enough energy to come entertain us at our avian soup kitchen. And hopefully learning that, even though the food is provided, there ain't no such thing as a free lunch.

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