I don’t know about your neighborhood, but mine is getting more crowded by the day. The annual population explosion, and attendant noise, is right on schedule, just in time for the 4th of July. This year it seems like it will be particularly difficult to satisfy all of these new mouths to feed. In addition to the endless stream of renters at my neighbor’s place, I am of course talking about all the young birds that are suddenly everywhere. Baby birds abound, and they are really livening up the place just when things had started to get dull in neighborhood birding.
In the immediate vicinity of my yard, orioles, bluebirds, robins, cardinals, catbirds, chickadees, and titmice have all been feeding their recently fledged young this week. While none of these birds came from my own yard, to my great disappointment, I’m glad they at least bring the kids by. I see these frazzled parents, often with five or six insects in their beak at once, dashing between chicks stashed in different parts of several trees, often quite far apart. For some species the chicks they are feeding aren’t even their own – the local pair of phoebes was victimized by a female Brown-headed Cowbird this year. The cowbird laid her egg in their dark nest beneath the eaves of a shed and the phoebes raised the big cowbird chick at the expense of their own.
Though I never found where the pair nested in the neighborhood, Baltimore Oriole babies are suddenly around, and are about as subtle as their human toddler counterparts, noise-wise. Starting in the nest, they give loud begging calls that seem hopelessly maladaptive – they are telegraphing the location of the nest to predators. They don’t just give quiet begging calls when the parents return like many nestlings, they scream the whole time the parents are gone, as well. Despite this, my anecdotal observations indicate they have very good nest success in suburban Cape Cod. Maybe it’s just how loud the chicks are that makes it seem that way but they are seemingly everywhere the last couple of weeks.
Last week I lucked across a less commonly seen family group when I saw a mother American Woodcock crossing a road with her babies in Brewster. Displaying male woodcocks are easy to find in early spring, but not so the females or nests. And I go several years between sightings of woodcock chicks, so this was a treat. But it was also a near tragedy – I pulled over, then waved an oblivious car to stop, which they did barely in time, causing the female to fly wildly across the road without her chicks. Her confused little fluffballs retreated to the side opposite their mom, then began peeping, pitifully and invisibly, from the roadside woods. I stuck around long enough to watch the female get up the nerve to come out into the open again, demonstrating the trademark woodcock shuffle – check YouTube if you don’t know what I mean, it’s their version of the funky chicken, but funkier. Eventually she flew back across and reunited with her brood, but not without another white-knuckle near-miss past the windshield of a speeding car.
Whether you’re a bird or a relatively hairless primate, it’s not easy raising kids in this crazy world. They’re hungry, noisy, messy, and illogical. They need shelter and help crossing the street. But it’s all worth it to see them grow, fledge, and find their way in the world. At least until they return to the nest after college because they need to “figure things out”.