Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010

Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010
Photo by R.E. Berg-Andersson

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Summer Babies

When my first niece was born nearly three decades ago, we waited for the phone to ring. Back then it was a landline on a table in the hall. We were not alone in waiting. When we visited MH’s parents, each time the phone rang he’d yell, “The baby, the baby!” but it was usually someone else.

When the call finally came, I answered and MH yanked the phone from my hand. “I’m the blood relative,” he said. I’ve never forgotten that. Luckily, our niece loves me just the same as him.

(photo courtesy of Redmond family)
This niece has just had her first child. Everyone knew about it within seconds on Facebook and there were literally hundreds of congratulations and other comments on the many photos. It is a fast and technological world we live in now.

Meanwhile, out in the yard, birds are also having babies in the June heat. However, they aren’t tweeting out the news using Twitter or posting to Facebook, so you have to keep your eyes open and watch for the signs.

I knew when the babies were hatched in the house wren box when Papa Wren stopped his near-constant singing. Now, he was trying to protect the young by keeping the location of the nest hidden.

Another clue: Both parents started shuttling back and forth to the box with food. One would get something, bring it to the box, climb inside, then come out. The other would come seconds later to do the same thing.

Wren box (Margo D. Beller)
When the babies got too big, the parents stayed on the outside of the box to feed the young. It is up to each chick to push its way to the front to get fed. Mom or Dad won’t be coming inside anymore. Fight to feed or die.

Today I came into the backyard and the wrens were scolding their warnings to the young, as usual at my appearance. However, this time, they were in a bush at the other end of the yard. When I stood under the nest box, none came to hover over me as they were doing as recently as the day before.

The young had fledged.

It’s not just the wrens that are doing this. From my open window I can hear the raucous families of tufted titmice and black-capped chickadees. Taking a walk, I see small groups of starlings, the young a sandy brown color, not yet the black of their parents.

Once the quiet period of egg laying, brooding and fledging is over, the young noisily follow their parents around, begging to be fed, slowly learning how to do this for themselves. The birds are more active and are more easily found in the thick tree canopy.

I am hearing more bird song, too, cardinals, chipping sparrows and song sparrows singing territorial songs before starting a new brood. Most birds are not monogamous. Once the young have fledged, the parents go their separate ways and start over. Many birds have several broods each season before it is time to head south in the autumn. That means two birds can create 10 or more birds in one summer. They must do this for their species to survive. 

Tree swallow brood -- look carefully, there are 5 (Margo D. Beller)
Humans do things in a different order. You have nine months of great anticipation and frenzied nest building after conception, not before. Then, once the young are born, it can take decades of care and feeding to get the young ready to leave the nest, presuming they want to or can afford it.

Birds have it easier.

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