Allan Bell’s Birch Bark Nature Notes Revisited
The Easter bunny brought something different to our house. I got up to find my daughter-in-law, Karen, carefully holding a colorful male evening grosbeak. She had noticed it in the driveway, realized it was in trouble, went out and picked it up and brought it into the house. It didn’t struggle at all, resting quietly in her hands. We surmised it must have collided with the window or a porch post. Its eyes were bright and alert
Karen placed it in a large paper bag, then carefully put the bag in the closet, in hopes the bird would recover. After about an hour, an inspection showed little change. We decided it might be better off outside, as long as the temperature was fairly mild.
She set it on a small branch of a red pine about four feet off the ground. Frequent checks for the next hour showed him still there and able to cling to the branch even though it sometimes swayed wildly in the gusty wind.
Sometime later the bird was sitting on the ground under the tree. I thought maybe it would eat some sunflower seeds if they were offered close enough. When I approached with the seeds, he took off and flew about 25 feet, landing in the grass. Maybe he was getting better!
After another half hour Karen decided to move him closer to the house where there was more shelter and where others of his clan were feeding. He sat very still with his head turned toward his back and his bill tucked in his feathers. It didn’t look good to me.
Perhaps another hour passed. I looked out and the bird was gone! Where was he? I went out to see. No bird in sight. Had he flown away? As I retraced my steps toward the house, a small bright yellow tuft of feathers on the ground caught my eye. Further search turned up nothing. What happened? Dogs and cats are seldom in the vicinity. Could it be that a hawk spotted that bird, recognized it was an easy mark, swooped down and carried it off? Would it have been better to keep the bird in the house in a cage? I don’t think so. If it can’t be free, what’s the use of just existing?
One spring day several years ago, I was ambling down a barely discernable old road in Door County. Suddenly, right at my feet, a small brown bird exploded out of the grass. I stopped, fearing another step might crush a clutch of eggs. Yes, there half hidden in the grass and leaves was a small nest with three bluish-green eggs – and two brown-speckled ivory colored eggs.
I didn’t know if the bird was a sparrow, thrush or what. I was guessing the two odd eggs were those of a cowbird. Maybe a book would tell me what the others were. A book of bird nests and eggs confirmed my suspicions. A cowbird had laid two eggs in the nest of a wood thrush.
All of the thrushes have songs which are a real treat to hear and there just aren’t as many of these birds as most people would like to see. Cowbirds, on the other hand, are plentiful, and many people think there are far too many of them.
Cowbirds must believe in foster parents. They never bother to raise their own young. The female cowbird sneaks in when a nesting bird leaves for a few minutes, throws out an egg, if there is one there, and lays one or two of her own. Then she leaves permanently depending on the other bird to hatch the egg and raise the young. Many do it. Usually the other birds are smaller, such as vireos, warblers, sparrows and flycatchers. The cowbird eggs normally hatch first and the young are larger than the host birds’, resulting in the cowbirds getting most of the food. Often, the other young do not survive.
Well, now that I knew the situation, what should I do about it? Should I remove the two cowbird eggs? Would I be doing something that was the province of the Supreme Architect of the Universe? Did I have the right to interfere? What if I had never seen the nest? Yet, if I didn’t take them out, chances are there would be no wood thrushes fledged from the nest.
By morning, my mind was made up. No, I am NOT going to tell you what I did. What would you have done?
Late nature writer Allan Bell wrote this Birch Bark Nature Notes column for the Tomahawk Leader back on May 2, 1984.