Reader's Exchange

Birdbrains, unite!

It's true what they say--tweeting on the job is sooo distracting.  But the dove, sparrow, and grackle families outside the library windows intent on nest arranging and procreation are definitely in twitter mode.

One of the two dove nests currently defies several laws of physics by somehow accommodating a mother and two fluffy youngsters who seem to enlarge right in front of our eyes.  Doves are second-rate nest builders at best, so we were agog at Mom's success at balance and containment even before the kids came along.  How soon will those adolescents fledge and leave the nest?  Will they volunteer, or will parental pressure be brought to bear?  

We can't see the sparrow nest.  That tiny domicile is situated just outside on the window ledge and its view blocked by the frame. But anyone could relate to sounds of a busy household.

The grackles are another story entirely.  Their nest looks roomy and sturdy and even exhibits symmetry (so we knew it didn't belong to doves), but the mother bird was difficult to spot and identify.  With the help of whatbird.com and several identification guides from the library's collection, I arrived at the unsurprising conclusion that the brown female is one of those stately yet raucous types who frequent our bit of urban forest. And then Papa Bird finally showed up, confirming the guess; he's much more distinctive.   This is why I love Roger Tory Peterson's bird guides; he generally illustrates females and juvenile birds along with the males and even positions "confusing" species side by side so you can compare markings, etc.

But I've had suspicions about Mr. Grackle ever since I (a) spotted two females hanging around, only one of whom brings food to the nest and (b) read that some grackles will mate with one female and then abandon her for a second one during the nesting period. Do we have a feathered temptress trying to lead Papa astray?  Or have I just read one fiction review too many?  Time will tell.

Mother jay and babiesAnd--this is the wonder of bird watching--time always tells quickly.  Young birds emerge, develop, and leave the nest in two or three weeks.  The avian youngsters could be viewed as micro-grandchildren (revel in their cuteness and above average development) or perhaps characters in a living mini-series in which intergenerational issues resolve themselves within days, not decades.  When the baby doves take flight, I'll relish a "my work here is done" aura of self-congratulation.

If you haven't already pegged your favorite bird sites, take a look at whatbird.com, US Geological Survey's Bird Checklists, and Cornell Lab of Ornithology's All About Birds.  You can ask bird-related questions (identifying, dealing with noise, etc.) Two live bird cams--great blue herons and red-tailed hawks--chronicle the Circle of Life, good and bad.  Will the great horned owl attack again? When will the eggs hatch? 

Having fully activated your bird radar, you may begin to appreciate the exotic species all around you.  Only this week, right here in the library, I've observed a Cardigan-Clad Empty Nester, a Ponytailed Seersucker Wearer, a Red-braided Songbird, a Bleary-Eyed Testprepper, and a whole flock of Texas Websurfers.   

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