I stopped on a hot day to get some iced tea at a fast food restaurant situated near the highway. I watched house sparrows flutter about the parking lot. Some of them flew in and out of the grilles of automobiles. Those are good places for the birds to find fried insects. House sparrows make themselves so much at home around fast food places that they could be called burger kinglets.
Leaving the nest
I looked outside to read a page of the book of nature. Bees were doing busy work as an indigo bunting fed on the grape jelly I’d put out for the orioles and catbirds. The yard provided an avian revelry. Three baby robins, fuzz balls with beaks, supplied the centerpiece to a lilac outside the window of our home. Each day, my wife and I checked on the babies. They grew rapidly thanks to the constant supply of worms brought to them by their parents. Then the day came. The young robins had developed wings.
They became antsy. The nest was cramping their style. Lacking anything that could be called a real tail, each young bird stepped to the edge of the nest and fluttered—testing its wings. One at a time, each of the new robins left the nest. Their departures were of the accidental on purpose kind. Each exit was a combination of a jump and a fall. It wasn’t unlike the way many of us left home. A youngster talks about going, but it never seems possible until he receives that suitcase as a graduation present from his father. Henry Ward Beecher said, “There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings.”
The young robins had wings.
Thirty minutes after the last baby had left the nest, the mother flew into the nest and stared at it. She looked long, as if she couldn’t believe that her babies had flown the nest. Many a human mother has looked at her empty nest of a child’s bedroom in the same manner.
Fifteen minutes later, the father flew in and gave the nest a good look.
Q and A
Linda Brekke of Owatonna asked how to tell if the eggs in a mallard’s nest hatched or were taken by a predator. Mallards have a 23 to 30 day incubation period. When hatching, a duckling uses its egg tooth (a hard toothlike projection on the bill) to make a circular cut across the blunt end of the egg. That edge is jagged. As the empty shell dries, the inner membrane contracts and rolls the chipped edge inward.
Unlike predated eggs, hatched eggs have no yolk or egg white left inside the shell. A crow makes a small puncture in the egg, inserts its bill into the hole to lift the egg, and drains the contents. It might eat the egg on the nest, but often carries it off. Gulls make similar holes, but generally eat eggs at the nest. Foxes generally carry the eggs away from nests to eat or cache for later consumption. If a fox catches a mallard on the nest, the nest will be damaged, with scattered feathers or carcass remains. Raccoons and skunks seldom remove eggs or eggshells from nests. They eat them on site. Coyotes take eggs singly, often by pawing the egg and some nest material from the nest. Weasel or mink predation shows eggshells with numerous puncture marks and fine serrations along the edge of an opening.
There would be no displaced nest material. Finding a dead hen with bite marks in the cranium and/or neck may indicate a weasel or a mink destroyed a nest. Mallard ducklings are precocial. That means they are able to feed and move about on their own within minutes of hatching. They remain dependant on the mother for guidance, protection, and waterproofing for 42-60 days.
Altricial birds are the opposite of precocial birds. They hatch naked, blind, and helpless. They are featherless except for sparse down. They move little and are dependent on their parents for care. Hawks, owls, jays, doves, robins, crows, and herons are some examples of altricial birds.
Hairy woodpeckers drum faster than the smaller downy woodpeckers. Hairy woodpeckers love the grape jelly I put out for the orioles and catbirds.
Hen turkeys occasionally have beards. Straight or J-shaped droppings are those of a tom. Bulbous or spiral droppings are from a hen.
Thanks for stopping by
“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”--Albert Einstein
"We can throw stones, complain about them, stumble on them, climb over them, or build with them."-- William Arthur Ward