Punk Hair Day
Nature is moving headlong toward summer. Spring wildflowers are springing forth. Trees are fully dressed in a million shades of green. Last week we saw a doe nursing her fawn in the open meadow below our windows. While Mama Chipping Sparrow is out of the nest working for her baby’s breakfast, I happen by to see her insistent chick complaining that it’s time to eat! More formally this infant sparrow is called a host. But today at this early hour, there’s nothing formal about it. Pin feathers akimbo and having a punk hair kind of day, we both stop to study one another.
Babies are beautiful!
As a recent grandmother babies are of renewed interest. And they’re all fascinating no matter their species. So today let’s be reminded of this: baby birds typically leave the nest before they’re ready to fly and once they do they will not typically return to it. This bird is fully feathered except for the tufts of down on the head but continues to depend on parents to bring it food and protect it from predators. It has not yet flown. I watched for many minutes while this little Albert Einstein mimic moved about the branches in front of our porch. Moved is a euphemism where I might just as well have said stumbled, lurched, or jostled headlong.
Good deed for the day!
It’s a myth that avian parents will reject a chick that has human scent on it as they have a very poorly developed sense of smell. If you find a baby bird where it might be trampled underfoot or harmed by a dog or a cat, by all means move it to a bush or branch a few feet off the ground, preferably out of the hot sun. And then watch from a distance but mostly leave it alone. The parents did not likely abandon it and will almost certainly return. In this case Mama Chipping Sparrow appeared suddenly on the downspout with her hard trilling chip warning me away. And there was breakfast in her bill. They eat mostly seeds and some crawling insects but I couldn’t tell what was on the du jour menu.
Chipping Sparrows are kindly birds by habit
These small birds are nice to watch as they are kind to one another by habit. Parents make pair bonds and fathers feed the mothers while they incubate four eggs. Once the young hatch both parents make food runs to sustain their brood. A week and a half later the young leave the nest just as this one did and within three days after that they are capable of weak but sustained flight. The feeding routine will continue for three more weeks as the young grow bigger and stronger. Worn out from the work of it, most parents will be satisfied with having done their duty for this year. Remember they are competent parents and know what to do far better than you. Their decline is because of competition from the Brown-headed cowbird, a nest predator, and not because of a parenting failure.
Then there is this legalese:
You may think you’re doing a good deed by “rescuing” a baby bird but in most cases it will do better without you. As a matter of fact, migratory bird laws protect all native wild birds in the US and Canada from possession for any reason, except transportation to a licensed rehabilitator, and that only in the direst of situations. It is against the law no matter how kindly your intentions may be and common sense dictates that, nestling or fledgling, you leave it be.
To learn more about the Chipping Sparrow check out the Cornell Ornithology Lab.