With summer winding down, and back to school time upon us, I thought we should check in on the kids of the bird world and see what they are facing this fall. With more than “pencils, books, and teacher’s dirty looks” to worry about, they may help put your kids’ or grandkids’ annual Labor Day malaise in perspective.
Let’s start with the chickadees. They are clearly the smart, popular kids, so this summer’s fledglings have a lot to live up to. As the local leaders of the mixed flocks that the transient migrants look to for the latest information on local resources, they have to be both book smart and the ones to plan the big keggers. It’s a tall order, but they are just the smart, engaging little birds to pull it off.
In contrast, crows are that street smart goth kid that could have been valedictorian or at least captain of the chess team if they weren’t such a troublemaker. But with a natural curiosity that allows them to rapidly learn everything from the location of food sources to avoiding danger, this year’s crop of crow kids is well equipped to survive until next year. IF they apply themselves.
You may have noticed some seemingly inexperienced young hummingbirds hanging around your yard in recent weeks - I have two that constantly chase each other around my deck. Hummingbirds are that annoyingly Type A kid that discovered espresso in junior high and never looked back. Slow down and enjoy your youth kid – you’re not 40. But if a young hummingbird is going to make it to Central America and back, they’ll need to be able to find all of the Starbucks along the way, by which I mean patches of flowers, because with a heart rate that can exceed 1000 beats per minute, they can’t miss a meal if they expect to wake up the next morning.
Then there are the even more ambitious long-distance migrants, like Purple Martins, who are those worldly kids off to do a gap year in South America – get ready to have your Facebook feed inundated with photos of them in some remote village or cosmopolitan café, demonstrating just how cool and adventurous they are. But a two-month-old bird who needs to find her way to the heart of darkness Amazonia along a gauntlet of hungry falcons has more to worry about than their deferred admission to Dartmouth – less than half will live to return the following spring.
The vociferous Carolina Wren is that kid that never developed an inside voice. You always know he’s coming from a mile way, often after getting kicked out of class. But since they don’t migrate, this year’s cohort of young Carolina Wrens don’t need lessons in sotto voce, they need to know how to survive a potentially harsh New England winter, which requires eating every spider egg sac and moth cocoon they can find. If the snow gets too deep for too long, they are done, because survival is not a class you can make up in summer school.
So obviously our local bird kids have a lot of work to do if they are going to pass their first year in this school of ornithological hard knocks that is the natural world. Which of course raises the extremely important question I have been building to throughout this piece: which type of bird is your kid?