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Overall it’s been a cold, wet spring, and that makes me wonder how well our feathered friends have managed to “weather” the spring nesting season. There are plenty of turkey hens moving through of late but none with poults that I have seen. There are several songbird nests in the brush and trees that have un-hatched eggs in them, which is never a good sign. I have not seen a grouse or woodcock family yet this spring, and I usually do spot one or the other on my woodland walks.
Some of the birds just don’t get it, of course. Two swallow nests built into a rain gutter were washed away, and I know of at least three robin nests that were built on automobile tires (with the automobile still attached!) that had to be removed so the owner could drive back and forth to work.
One successful nest that I wish hadn’t been was a crow nest built in a tall pine not 100 yards from the house. I like crows, call them often and have hunted them for 50 years, but there’s nothing appealing about a baby crow’s endless squawking. Sounding just like a hunter who doesn’t know how to use a crow call, these pesky fledglings are loud, persistent and determined to be heard. The parents fly in and out with meals of various sorts (road kill, insects, more road kill) and that quiets the brood for a few minutes.
The baby crows are quite different from the baby bluebirds in the box at the edge of the field. I can barely hear them even when food arrives.
And, if baby hummingbirds make a sound I can’t hear them. The other day I dressed in camouflage and got as close to the thimble-sized nest as I could, and then watched as the parents zoomed in and out with nectar for the kids, which accepted their meals in silence with tiny beaks pointed skyward.
Meanwhile, other babies are showing up, most notably a calf moose and her mother. Most of the neighbors saw the cow and her calf last year, but, alas, the younger moose was hit by a car and had to be put down by the game warden. If it’s the same cow (or even if it’s not) this means there is also a bull moose out there, nature being what it is these days. I did see a yearling bull moose while coyote calling last winter, but it’s doubtful that he’s the herd sire. There are more, bigger moose around us; they just know how to avoid contact with humans.
There is plenty of activity going on at night, too. I’m constantly being wakened in the night by a family of raccoons, which can’t seem to understand that I now bring the feeders inside to keep them from destroying or stealing them. I still can’t find the empty suet feeder they stole a few nights ago.
Other continuous night visitors are the coyotes, which seem to enjoy teasing me with their sudden howls followed by utter silence. They know I’ll get up, get a flashlight, try to find them and at least get a picture for my files, but instead they make sure I’m awake and then run gaily off to find something to eat. I know I’ll get even with them later in the fall when their hides are prime, so I play along for now. Besides, it must be quite a challenge to feed as many as 14 coyote pups, so I don’t grouch about it overmuch.
One unusual visitor this week has been a young raven that either can’t or won’t fly. He limps about the yard (remarkably close for such a reclusive bird) looking for food but won’t take anything I throw to him. He has been eating what’s left of last seasons’ coyote bait (deer, moose and bear carcasses) but that can’t be enough to keep a young raven going. I enjoy his croaks and clucks much more than those of the baby crows, which are less than half his size at this time of year.
When I take my tea breaks on the porch lately I bring my binoculars out to see what other wild youngsters are fluttering around. The field-edge bushes are alive with young birds learning to fly, and the field itself is filled with anxious parents doing what they can to feed and direct the fledglings. The only daytime predators we have are hawks and the occasional weasel, so the majority of the young birds survive their maiden flights without mishap. It’s still a dangerous world out there – even squirrels will eat baby birds – so they need to be on guard at all times. They seem to have the system down, so I just watch and hope for the best. Human interference in nature is rarely a good thing!
I think the most entertaining of my wild young neighbors are the baby chipmunks. Already high on the cute scale, the youngest ones are amusing to no end as they try to emulate their parents. Slower, clumsier and borderline inept, the baby chipmunks can’t seem to grasp the concept of picking up an acorn; stuffing it in a cheek pouch and running it back to the den. The process is simple enough to describe, but to watch them trip and fall and roll and scramble along the stone wall with their prize is like watching the human contestants in “Wipeout” on television. They almost make it, but then lose their footing, their acorn or their balance, and down into the leaves they go. Determination must be built into the young chipmunk’s psyche because not one of them will give up the acorn and wander off to do something else. Even if it takes all day they will keep at it till they succeed – a good lesson for those of us watching them!
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