Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Schrodinger's Chickadee


I don't know what's in our chickadee box. Whatever's in there has been packed with bugs and caterpillars, and, lately, as parental exhaustion set in, fat chunks of suet from our feeder.

My friend Julie Zickefoose showed me a working chickadee nest this year; she's like a realtor with the lockbox key. Her eighty acres are maintained with the welfare of birds in mind, so the whole habitat is conducive to baby-bird manufacturing--location, location, location!--but she's also leasing a bunch of nesting boxes for bluebirds and chickadees and the like, and those subsidized birds on her property do not have as much privacy as mine. Dave screwed my chickadee box together solid. Julie's have doors, and she opens them to check on things, after knocking politely first. There was a grass mattress with a hole in the middle and four speckled eggs the size of my little fingernail, and I keep my nails short. The idea is that an entire prospective bird is supposed to come out of each of those little beans. It's pretty implausible. I guess they're all folded up, and by the time they bust out, they look marginally like birds, or at least you could tell them from mice and such, but they also look a lot like loogies. What they don't look like is a going concern.

Poopy diaper
I have seen brand new baby birds before, of course. They're not real impressive, from a survival perspective. They're not go-getters. They're barely differentiated goo in a thin sac that  has all the integrity of a spit bubble. You can make out big goobery eyeballs so you know which end is up. And the parents definitely know which end is up, because the one thing they do have going for them is their giant yellow feed-me holes. This is where the bugs and caterpillars go.

They can just about hold their heads up to get the protein shoveled in, but they're feeble. Then feather bits start piercing their skin from the inside out, and within days they're all itch and bristle and desire. Before a week is out they are actually beginning to preen their new feathers, with good reason. They've opened their eyes and they can see they need sprucing up, because they still look like shit. Fortunately, it's dark in the box, and there is no permanent psychological damage.

The thing is, the little suckers are supposed to be out of the nest in about sixteen days after hatching,
depending on this or that, but for sure they're not supposed to be in there forever, and it's been nineteen days now since we heard the first pitiful peepings of loogie-birds. Mom and Dad have hauled in about a hundred pounds of bugs and nothing's come out but diapers. I don't know if they're the sort of bird that flies okay right off the bat. If they were in a natural tree-cavity they'd have options; could poke their heads out and hop around a little, hang onto a branch or something. But this box is right out in mid-air. Do we need to string up a net?

Worse, I have no idea what's in there. Six baby chickadees? One big scary one? Paula Deen? All I know is if Mom and Dad keep bringing them their dinner every minute, they're not going anywhere. They'll be down there in the rec room with the X-Box and scratching themselves and not even working on their resumes.

Update: one evening the parents began withholding bugs and coaxing them out. I didn't see them emerge, but the next morning we saw a confusion of unkempt chickadees flying around upside down and in loops like Woodstock's friends in Peanuts, and they managed to land okay on everything they blundered into. We are all very proud.

28 comments:

  1. I imagine the parents finally threatened them with chores and taking away their cell phones.

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    1. They sat outside the box and listened to the racket and said "don't make me come in there."

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  2. You know Julie? She's my hero. I loved her book and still remember some of those pictures. And aren't they cute little guys. I think chickadees are my favorites. For today at least. :-)

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    1. She's my hero too, and she's got more than one book. Do you have The Bluebird Effect? I looove that one.

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  3. I imagine human babies would look equally unimpressive to members of most other species -- think how long it takes before they can do anything much besides cry, albeit at very impressive volume. It's all in the parenting. Your little upside-down loopers came from thousands of generations of chickadees every one of which managed to get the next generation from goo-sac to go-getter successfully. You've just seen it done one more time.

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    1. I don't know. They look like Winston Churchill, and that's pretty impressive. Yeah, you're right--totally altricial, we are.

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  4. Congratulations!
    We had tufted titmice (mouses?) in our bluebird box this year. Successful also. But no second round yet.

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    1. Oh man. We don't get to have them. They are so dang cute. I've never seen anyone do a second round of chickadees here in my box. I think they've just about had it after the first one.

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  5. Congratulations, you two! Oh, and the same to the chickadee parents. You all must be exhausted. Worrying will do that, just as child-rearing will.

    You make learning fun, you do.

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    1. I have to. I have to re-learn everything a whole bunch of times.

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  6. Awwww. And congratulations to all involved.

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    1. Further update: in what seemed no time at all, the babies have lost their squiggly baby mouths and have regular pointed beaks like mom and dad. They grow up so fast.

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  7. "All itch and bristle and desire" -- the story of so many of our lives :)

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  8. Awww! Those are the best babeh chickadee photos I've ever seen, Murre!
    Love this post. It speaks to me. xoxo j.

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    1. Yeah, he's doing his California Quail imitation. Dave spotted them. He said "would this be one of our chickadees on the windowsill looking confused?" Yes, it would.

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  9. I recently posted photos of birds on my blog including sparrows feeding their young. So cool. Love your sweet babies!!

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    1. I just got to see parent dippers trying to teach the kid how to get its own food. By running underwater. Kid didn't want to get his head wet. It was a riot.

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  10. Schrodinger's Ckickadee, any relation to Schrodinger's Cat?
    I think all baby birdies should hatch with lovely soft fluffy coats like chickens and ducks are. I think it's mean of mother nature to leave them raw like that.
    Nice photos.

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    1. One thing we know, if Schrodinger's cat and Schrodinger's chickadee were in the same box, SOMEBODY'S dead.

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  11. 'They're barely differentiated goo in a thin sac that has all the integrity of a spit bubble.'

    That had me chortling out loud and it's a sentence that should be said at the beginning of every day because it sounds so delicious.

    Well done mom and pop birdies. Oh, and congrats to the chickadee parents too.

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    1. Count me in favor of delicious sentences!

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  12. Schrodinger forgot that you might not be able to see it, but we have five other senses.
    the Ol'Buzzard

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    1. You make an excellent point. I can think of one that could come in handy for this particular puzzle.

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  13. Second blog I've read today that referenced Schrodinger. What's a non-physicist to do? Oh, read this hilarious account of the inception and early life of the chickadee!

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    1. You could send me some spare umlauts if you have any laying around.

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  14. You have completely blown my mind. Baby birds wear diapers. Some young birds use bats for flight training. (How else would they fly ok right off the bat?) And I love the photos. Alfalfa the chickadee and two rosy-breasted avian annoyers.

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    1. Baby birds don't WEAR diapers, but a lot of them poop in little handy sacks and mom and dad can take them out and drop them far away. Gets messy otherwise.

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