Bird Study – Domestic Life Of The Birds

IT IS a privilege to be so situated that one may watch from day to day the occurrences about a wild bird’s nest. Here feathered life reaches its greatest heights of emotion, and comedies and threatened tragedies are of daily occurrence. The people we know best are those whom we have seen at their play and at their work, in moments of elation and doubt, and in times of great happiness and dire distress. And so it is that he who has followed the activities of a pair of birds through all the joys and anxieties of nest building, brooding, and of caring for the young, may well lay claim to a close acquaintanceship with them.

In watching a nest one will learn, for example, that with most of our small birds both parents engage in the pleasant duty of feeding the young, at times shielding the little ones from the hot rays of the sun with their half-extended wings, and now and then driving away intruders. The common passerine birds also attend carefully to the sanitation of the nest and remove the feces, which is i closed in a membrane and is thus easily carried in the bill. This is usually dropped several yard. away. If allowed to accumulate on the ground beneath the nest it might attract the attention of some prowling enemy and lead to a disastrous discover

Parental Care of Young.—There is a wide difference in the relative helplessness of nesting birds, and a corresponding difference in the method of parental care. The young of praecocial birds are able to run or swim with their parents almost as soon as hatched, for they not only have the strength to do this, but their bodies being covered with down they are protected from the sun or cold. Examples of such birds are the Quail, Grouse, Sandpipers, lovers, and Ducks. The young of these and allie. species are able from the beginning to pick up their food, and they quickly learn from the example of their parents what is desirable. Soon they are able to shift for themselves, although one or both of the parents continue to attend them until grown.

With the altricial birds the young are hatched in an absolutely helpless condition, being both blind and naked, and it is necessary that they be fed by the parents, not only while occupying the nest, but also for several weeks afterward. To this group belong most of the small birds we are accustomed to see about the house. When newly born the food they receive is first digested in the crop or the stomach of the parent from which it is regurgitated into the mouth of the young. Flickers, Humming-birds, Doves, and some others continue to feed their young in this manner, but usually the method soon gives way to that, more commonly observed, of simply supplying soft-bodied insects which have been captured and killed but not eaten.

In the case of Pelicans, Cormorants, and Ibises, the young thrust their bills far down the throats of the parents to procure the regurgitated food. From this custom the ancients may have got the idea that Pelicans feed their young with their own life blood. The suggestion still persists, and on the seal of one of our large life insurance companies of America a Pelican and her young are represented accompanied with the motto: ” I live and die for those I love.” The great seal of the State of Louisiana uses a similar picture without the motto.

Hawks and Owls tear their prey to pieces and on this the young feed at infrequent intervals. Some-times several hours pass between the visits of the food-laden parents, but the supply is usually adequate when at length it arrives.

Sharing the Labours.—Most young birds, however, are fed with great frequency. For more than an hour one day the writer watched a pair of Georgia Mockingbirds feeding their young. The one that appeared to be the female visited the nest with food on an average once every two minutes, and the male made a similar trip about once in twelve minutes. He could have done better had he not spent so much time flying aimlessly about and scolding imaginary enemies.

Some birds have what seem to be very curious habits at the nesting time. The jealous-hearted Hornbill of the Old World never trusts his spouse to wander away from the nest after her duties there once begin. In order that he may always know just where she is he quite willingly undertakes to supply her with all her food during the days while the incubation of the eggs is going forward. With mud he daubs up the entrance to the hollow in the tree where she is sitting, leaving only a small opening through which food may be passed. When the mud has dried it becomes very hard and the patient mate is an absolute prisoner until the day comes when she passes the word to her lord that the eggs have hatched, and he sets her free.

In our own western country there dwells a bird known as the Phalarope, the females of which enjoy an immunity from domestic duties that might cause the lady Hornbill many an envious sigh did she know of the freedom of her American sister.

Mrs. Phalarope has no intention of being shut in with her eggs for a month while her mate goes roaming at large about the country, nor has she any idea of playing the part of the Georgia Mockingbird and bringing five-sixths of the food which the young require. Her method of procedure is first to permit her mate to search for a suitable nesting site. When some sheltered spot in the ground, quite to her liking, has been found she deposits the eggs and goes her way. Little companies of female Phalaropes may be seen at this time of the year frequenting the ponds and sloughs they inhabit. The dutiful and well-trained males are all at home, where they are responsible for the entire task of caring for, and incubating, the eggs.