Watching the fledgling show

Published 9:18 pm Tuesday, June 30, 2015

In a normal year, winter merges gently into spring, spring teases us with hot and cold, then slowly yields to summer. Babies are born. Life is good.

Not so this year. It was ice, snow, and cold — then suddenly early summer. Warmest May ever, wasn’t it?

One result of this weather pattern that we have noticed is that all of the babies were born at the same time.

Email newsletter signup

When a baby bird is born, it is a hatchling. Some are born bald, some with feathers. As their feathers grow and allow them to fly, they become fledglings. Fledglings try out their wings and may even leave the nest, but they still rely on the parents for food.

Like a teen before his first prom, they are dorky, uncoordinated, unskilled, clumsy, eager, hungry and willing. We first howled with laughter about that last year as we watched a mother eagle try to teach her baby to land in trees and launch from trees. There were several 30-foot falls to the lake. Talk about clumsy!

This year all the fledglings are coming to our feeders at the same time. It’s a comedy show. We’ve watched a mama nuthatch get a big chunk of suet in her mouth — then have to chase her young one up and down the tree to feed it. Repeatedly.

We’ve watched a fully-grown bluejay at a feeder reach over and peck a junior-leaguer on the binky to teach it some patience. Thus do we learn pecking order.

We’ve watched baby cardinals whose topknots didn’t work — all gray, mind you — struggle to solve the mysteries of bird feeders.

The five goslings that paraded from end to end of the lake with mom and dad have dwindled to two. We wonder what got the other three. Turtles? Foxes? Birds of prey? Mother Nature is ruthless. But they still tour the lake — Dad up front, two fledglings and then Mom.

Our favorites, however, are the woodpeckers, both downy and red-bellied. The young downies are so small they can barely reach over the edge of the suet cake — when they find it at all.

The red-bellied — and we always have multiple families — are basically gray all over, have big heads with pencil-thin necks, and move ungainly in all their actions. But they fumble, they watch Mom, they try, they learn. Gawky teenagers!

Usually we quit feeding about the first of June, but this year has been so amusing that we’ve continued. I’d rather spend the money on suet and black oil sunflower seed than a movie any day.

The bird show just goes on and on and on.

Susan and Bradford “Biff” Andrews are retired teachers and master naturalists who have been outdoor people all their lives, exploring and enjoying the woods, swamps, rivers and beaches throughout the region for many years. Email them at