Saturday, June 12, 2010

Brood Parasitism - "Idi, Is That You?"

I'm not a classically 'wifely' sort of person. I'm not a doter nor coddler of children nor men, though there are some I love intensely. As an example: I don't make lunches. On occasion, I do, but those are out of the ordinary events. Lunch is not to be expected from me as a regularly occurring domestic happening. When David goes to work for the day, I do not send him off with a lunch box filled with tenderly constructed, crustless sandwiches, warm cookies and a cold drink followed by a lipstick smack to his cheek. If asked to produce lunch, I turn into the Queen Of Hearts and am apt to shriek "Off with their heads!" When you are at my house, If you want lunch, you are on your own. Oh, and by the way, you could make me a sandwich while you're at it.
However, a few days ago, I broke out of my usual mold and took lunch to my husband where he was working. I was rewarded for my unusual wifely attentions with this Chipping sparrow feeding a new fledgling. The 'Chippie' was frantically rushing back and forth to the chick with beakfuls of insects. The chick chirped wildly when the parent arrived, rushing to her with it's great gaping maw, demanding food. The Chippie seemed to be trying to lead the chick further and further into the woods.
     This baby bird could not quite fly or just wasn't bothering to try. It sat like a moribund lump between feedings, looking as if it might faint from hunger. Several times, the 'mother' (I can't swear that the Chipping sparrow was female) seemed to be trying to escape from the chick, which repeatedly ran after her when she was done shoving insects into its cake hole. The chick's appetite was to say the least, voracious.
     I didn't see or hear any other chicks around. There wasn't time between feedings of this chow hound to have tended to others had there been any in a nest somewhere or elsewhere on the ground. Then, I noticed that the chick was at least twice the size of the parent bird and lacked any marking consistent with the parent. Then, it dawned on me: I was witnessing brood parasitism! Suddenly, what seemed before to be a wretched, defenseless chick became an odious mass of flesh, Jabba The Hutt of birds! The chick is not the offspring of the Chipping sparrow, but rather that of a Brown-headed cowbird! The poor little sparrow was being run ragged by her adoptive child. I could imagine what it would be like to have adopted an infant, a helpless baby that one would learn to love and adore only to have it turn out to be Idi Amin Dada! He was someone's baby boy once before he grew up to be a military dictator who slaughtered nearly half a million people. Even Jabba The Hutt must have had a mother.
Chipping sparrows like grassy, woodland margins. They are about five inches from beak tip to tail. They are very common. They are sometimes called "Hairbirds," because they like using hair to line their nests. Some say they have seen them pulling the fur from sleeping dogs for this purpose. After you brush your own hair, if you clean the brush outdoors and leave your hair, it may very well wind up in a Chipping sparrow nest. Little Idi Amin will find it very comfy. Chipping sparrows are semi-migratory. From the far north, they move to slightly warmer places for the winter, but they don't go far. They like Florida and the Carolinas. In spring and fall during migration, their call can be heard at night as they fly overhead in the dark.
The Idi Amin Dada of birds, the Brown-headed cowbird

Thanks to Wikipedia, eNature.com, allaboutbirds.com and whatbird.com for some of the information.
External links for more information:

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20 comments:

  1. What a cracking insight into the lives of these two species Robin. Brilliant!

    Cheers,

    Seumus

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  2. Only in the burg.Great shots.
    bmc

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  3. If you do indeed make David crustless sandwiches and warm cookies for lunch everyday, it seems to me that you are not quite the ogrely housewife you describe, and that, therefore, you could have lended the poor sparrow a hand (or beak, as it were) in helping to feed Idi Amin!

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  4. Oh help-schmelp. Let them make their own lunch!

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  5. The feathers on that last shot of the cowbird baby are incredible! I like the way the mother eagle is hiding from her offspring!Thanks, as always..Jo

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  6. FANTASTIC BLOG AS ALWAYS....ALL THE BEST...

    .....Martha

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  7. Great post Robin. Maybe that's where Boom's fur goes after I brush him. Boom & Gary of the Vermilon River, Canada.

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  8. Thanks, Gary. It will be time to watch for this kind of action again pretty soon. I put my dog's hair out, too. He is a Shiba inu, in the same family lineage as Boom, the spitz. He has that downy undercoat that blows twice a year. I have enough dog hair to make coats for a small village if need be.

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  9. Great photos of interesting bird behavior.

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  10. A lovely read Robin backed up by some stunning images

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  11. Andrew, Joo and mick, thank you all for the reads, views, comments and compliments. Luck has a great deal to do with finding a scene like this. Then the rest is raw talent. ha ha ha! RIGHT! Thank you!

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  12. "It takes a flock to raise a cowbird!"
    H. Clinton

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  13. Great post and photos! It is a sad story of the cowbirds chicks, they so unwanted.

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  14. Springman, TOOOOO funny! Wow, I'm a big deal now if H. Clinton is reading and commenting. Is that what 'WTF' has meant all along? "What the flock???"

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  15. Thank you, eileeninmd for the view, read and comment. And, the compliments, too. It is all kind of sad, isn't it? I know it is the 'natural order of things,' but sometimes I wish the natural order would go a different way.

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  16. Once again - great post and pictures. You have a very interesting life and wonderful experiences.

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  17. Indeed, I do, Bill. Thank you for your comments and compliments. You are what it's all about. I think everybody's lives are interesting, if they take the time to look.

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  18. Little Jabba is pretty cute, though, isn't he? Nature does seem cruel at times, but it wasn't even Nature that caused one of my goldfinches to be eaten by a cat this morning!

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  19. Pat, thanks. Little Idi is indeed, really cute. Bummer about the goldfinch, too. thanks for looking at my blog.

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