Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Thrill of the Fledge

Today's the day. I'm sure of it. Tiny heads, two at a time, poke in and out of the doorway. A friend joins me in the watch. We can't tell how many, but by the racket they make, we guess they are more than two. The parents can no longer satisfy them, though they both bring food every few minutes. The nestling squawks have changed to more mature chips, and constant. Now whenever the parents arrive with food, a tiny head stretches out of the doorway and snatches the morsel with aggression. Then another of the nestlings actually hands ( or rather, beaks) a fecal sac, like a relay baton, to the parent, who immediately carries it off to a nearby branch and swallows it whole. That's it, methinks. When they're grown enough to hand out their own shit, they're ready to leave home. It's the house wren equivalent of becoming potty trained. Every now and again one of the parents perches on the doorway or low-hanging branch in front of it to perform an extended version of wing-flutter I earlier called "Quiver and Fluff." Is it teaching them how to fly? Or coaxing them out?

Then comes the glorious moment. Mama Small is perched on the low dogwood branch just three feet from front of birdhouse. Two heads, maybe three, compete for the doorway, each one shouldering the others out of the way, when, without fanfare, one, two three mini-wrens hop in succession, one or two minutes apart, to the nearby branch. Mama Small flew to the ivy wall across the path and the three soon followed, after a few exploratory hops and flights within the dogwood. Two more heads appear in the doorway. After ten minutes of reaching and stretching and retreating and prancing, they too, follow the same tentative route to the ivy wall. Through binoculars my friend and I watch and thrill and whisper our encouragement. We have pulled our chairs to within 20 feet of birdhouse. We check the time. 10:29 a.m. (The nuthatches departure time was 10:15am. I just missed the prior housewren fledge when I came out at 11:00am on their big day. With just three samples, I wonder at the pattern. Do first fledges always happen between 10:00 and 11:00am?)

Then surprise, surprise, one more tiny head stretches and chirps in the doorway. Baby #6. To our quiet cheers and claps, she too hops to the welcome brnch, explores the larger dogwood, and joins her siblings in the ivy wall where they flit and chip and play. Though tinier than their parents, and not yet as sure footed on the branches, they don't look like the fledglings of other bird species. They are already sleek and handsome brown like their parents, with a hint of stripe on their wings. We couldn't help noticing that all six of them pooped the instant they landed on the welcome branch.

And now, while they play noisily in the ivy wall, one of the adults---I think the mama----comes back to the nest and cleans house, exactly like last time, as recorded in June 7 blog, "Where Will They Now Sleep?" dkm


hannahmiller said...

Sounds very exciting! We caught a few house wrens in the bird banding the other day. I got to hold one and put a band on its leg, weigh it, take measurements, and let it fly off. I had no idea they ate scat.

We had to read Annie Dillard for this week's class - amazing! I see why you love her. We read "Teaching a Stone to Talk" (1982).

Enjoy the bird watching!

dkm said...

A comment! You left a comment! Now I"m excited. Nobody ever leaves comments. WAY cool! Just like a REAL blog, though I imagine the response of a real blogger would be more intellectual than "A comment!"

How on earth did you catch the house wrens!? This I must know. And how much do they weigh? Couldn't be more than a few ounces, I would guess. Were they adults or fledglings?

Now I must go in search of Teaching a Stone---haven't read it----