|Marge or Studley Windowson, before kids|
You may recall that I’ve had a chickadee manufacturing plant just outside my writing room window for six years now. I sit in the calming vicinity of a blank document on my computer screen and observe closely, in the service of science. And in all that time I have failed to see a baby chickadee emerge from the birdhouse. All signs point to the fact that they’re in there, but we have no visual proof. Last year we did manage to identify baby chickadees that had rolled off the assembly line, by spotting them in the three-hour interval before they become indistinguishable from their parents. We knew they were babies because they had clown lips, and because they had blundered onto our windowsill and were looking inside our kitchen. Adult birds rarely show any interest in our kitchen. They can find their own food.
Our chickadees, Marge and Studley–the Windowsons–have been running this franchise for years now. Even if they’re not the original Marge and Studley, how will they know? The Windowsons look exactly alike. And we knew the babies were going to look almost exactly like them too. Many baby birds do not. Many wear kid outfits, partly to camouflage and protect them, and mostly to annoy beginning birders, who are not going to find them in the field guide.
In theory I should be able to watch the birds leave the nest. I have a good idea when they’ve busted out of their shells, because Studley picks up the pace in hauling in groceries, and you can almost hear peeping. And I know approximately how many days it takes before they’ve taken in enough groceries to flap away, because I looked it up. With that in mind, yesterday I told Dave I was going to pop upstairs and see if there was any news on the chickadee front.
And for the first time, I saw it! An authentic baby chickadee head sticking out of the nest box hole! Clown lips and everything! Marge and Studley were just outside making wheedly noises. Houston! This was it! Junior was on the way out! WAY TO GO WINDOWSONS!
Junior pulled his head back in. All morning I watched as the Windowsons continued to haul in grubbage and Junior peered out. Junior looked up. Junior looked down. One time Marge went inside the box and then Junior appeared at the hole. Was she going to poke him in the fanny and get him off the dime? No. He pulled his head back in and she flew out.
We had things to do. A watched chickadee puppy never flies, I told myself, and turned away. Or flutters. Or rockets out sideways. Or ricochets. Or drops straight to the ground like a ball bearing. Shit. I don’t know what they do. I turned back.
|Looking like hell.|
But eventually I did pull myself away, and Dave and I went for an all-day constitutional. I reasoned that I’d already seen more than I’d seen before, and perhaps I’d have to wait till next year to see the big moment, the first flight. We got in late. I ran up to the window. It was a gol-durn miracle. They were still there! Nobody’d made a break for it! Grubbage still going in, poop sacs coming out. Marge and Studley both look like hell, honestly, especially Marge, or maybe Studley. They’ve worn their feathers to a frazzle. Neither of them has had a bath or a moment to themselves in weeks.
This morning Junior poked his head out again. I don’t know what happened yesterday, but today he was brandishing an inch-long whisker in his beak. Or possibly it was an insect bit that didn’t make it all the way down the maw. I don’t know if he’s planning to use it as a fencing foil or a curb-feeler. All I know is the dude’s ready. He’s ready for anything.
I do hope you happen to be there for "the moment". I know how it is to get wrapped up in the drama surrounding an individual bird family. There's a nest box outside my computer room window, and it's been in the Sparrow family for generations. Last year, the Sparrows were embroiled in a battle with the House Wrens over the property. The result? No one made a nest in the box — the first time we haven't had 100% tenancy. This year, the same thing was happening. Fortunately, Sparrow was more tenacious than Wren (and I may have "accidentally" squirted Wren with the garden hose in a fit of pique), and eventually succeeded in wooing a Mrs. Sparrow. I currently see very secretive nesting activity. Whenever Wren comes around, I go to the window and give him the stinkeye and cheech at him in an approximation of his language. At the very least, he has probably decided that he doesn't want to live next to this crazy human. Property values and all, you know….
Nope, I missed it again. I don't even know how many were in there. Wrens are so darn cute, it's a shame they're such a bane to the neighborhood. Cheech cheech!
You are like the Mrs. Kravitz of bird neighbors.
Oh my god, I am.
What fun and your words make it more so!!!
I'm going to have to get someone else to tell me how they fly out of there, though. They made the escape before I got up one morning.
I'm reading your blog and watching several Cassin's finches that I'm seeing for the first time. Birds can sure use up a lot of our time and leave our spirits so much the richer for doing so.
Tanks for sharing your chickadee family.
Watching birds is good for you. It puts your mind on Bird Standard Time.
I actually had a rare baby-pigeon sighting last week! the parents set up a nest behind a potted plant on the stairway of a small office building I visit each week. Usually one parent is there, but I guess they'd left to find food this time. First time in 60+ years I've seen one. Not as cute as chickadees, though…
No, and as I recall, the parents not only do not remove poop sacs, they shit all over the nest. They simply Do Not Care. Pigeons.
Oooooh. Exciting times. I would have been glued to the window. And I am pretty certain that the moment I went for that all essential toilet break the bird would have flown…
Most of our birds DO have baby and teenage attire. Which helps. And I smile at their scruffy selves as they fledge into adult dress…
I'm a little anxious about Studley fledging into his new suit. Doesn't he look like shit? And skinny, too. That raisin'-chilluns business is hard work. And I have a notion the caterpillar supply was sparse this spring. Climate change.
I agree, bird-watching is good for you. No babies in our yard this year, so thanks for the pix and stories from your house!
I need more nests. I don't even know where all the other birds are setting up. Except the crows. I do see a few of those nests. We have bushtits in the usual numbers (hundreds at once) and they have COOL nests, but I don't know where they are when they're not hanging out at our suet feeder.
I vote for a camera mounted in your window. With night vision. Not only will you not miss anything, but you will be able to post it for us! Please?
They do make such a thing, huh? It'll have to wait till next year. Nobody's been back to the house in days. We'll have to unscrew it and see what's in there–although it's always a grass mattress, all cleaned up with no poop or shells.
I love the names you gave them. I meant to say that the last time you wrote about them, and the time before that, too. Better late than never?
Shoot, I knew them for at least four years before I figured out their names. I'm just lucky I remember them.
Best babeh chickadee photo ever. I thought I was the only person who talked about baby bird clown lips. I should have known you did, too. xoxo jz
I think I got it from you. But what else could it be? Flappy-faces?
Somehow the picture of Studley Windowson reminds me of Dave. Huh. Don't know why. I got nothin.
Well he IS skinny. And likes to feed folks. So there's all that.
I do hope you get to see that first flight. Marge and Studley are looking rather the worse for wear aren't they? Raising babies will do that to you.
So I hear. So what's my excuse?
I get an apartment building's worth of barn swallows nesting and baby raising in my (…wait for it…) barn. The shells are being thrown out to make room for the puppies that were in them. There are about 6 active nests this year, down from the usual dozen or so. I hope the rest didn't drown in Texas.
There are so many things messing up the populations. It could be anything. Barn swallows are so dang natty though!