Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Baby Birds

Two days ago I sent a text to Maalie, who was gallivanting about up a mountain in foreign parts, asking him what to do about a baby crow I had found. I asked him whether I should perhaps give it some cat food to keep it going until it had learned to fly. The callous reply back was "either put it back where you found it or knock it on the head".

Sod that I thought. I went down to the bottom of the garden where the baby crow had taken refuge on top of the compost heap, and scooped a spoonful of food out of one of Scaredy's tins. The bird hopefully opened it's beak wide so I popped a bit of food in, and then made a hasty retreat as I was being dive-bombed by angry parent crows.

Today I saw what I thought was a frog hopping across the lawn. When I went to investigate I found it was a baby coal tit that had just fledged.

The nest is in the corrugations of the garage roof and I had been watching the parents flying in and out feeding their babies for the last few days.

This is the parent bird just about to pop into it's nest. I heard a few indignant tweets from the bird as it circled about, so I backed off, scooped up Scaredy and shut him in a room upstairs for the day.

I went back outside to check on 'my' bird and found Badger trying to round it up.
A very firm and assertive "NO, LEAVE" and Badger left. I couldn't have Badger trying to bite it on the back leg, could I?


Maalie said...

There is always a very high mortality amongst young birds, it is inevitable, I'm afraid. I try to overcome any feelings of sentimentality because not all of them can (or will) survive and to intervene is to oppose the process of natural selection. You are not doing any favours in the long term.

There is no such thing as a loving god. There is only the cold indifference of chance. Period.

God so loved the world that he condemned ten thousand Chinese to death, homelessness and misery in the recent earthquake.

Martin Stickland said...

The bird lady of alcapop, that is what you iz, crow pie with onions...yummy!

Looks like you have your hands full so good luck mummy!

Plumpy said...

Poor Scaredy!

Anonymous said...

Hi Maalie,

There may be no loving god and only the cold indifference of chance, but there are opportunities when we can improve chances. With the rapidly decreasing bird populations in Britain, which is very likely to be caused by human behaviour, many perfectly viable birds may not be getting the chance that they would otherwise have. Is conservation not the activity of increasing chances for various species?
I think that intervening is a reasonable thing to do and is not necessarily governed by sentimentality (though in Mum's case it probably is!)

Mum - I don't think Miki will be too impressed with your kindness with her loathing of Tokyo crows!


tut-tut said...

Siblings; very different takes on things, often . . .

Halfmom, AKA, Susan said...

Humph - I'm pretty glad someone intervened on my behalf cause left to natural selection I'd have died before I was three - and several other times in the intervening years.

I'm glad you're tender-heart Llama dear!

Maalie said...

>but there are opportunities when we can improve chances.

I agree absolutely. However small chicks that fledge a bit too early and are "fostered" like this rarely rehabilitate into the wild, they have not been taught the right "tricks" by their parents and may even become human-imprinted.

It is not quite the same as supplementary feeding when birds freely come to a feeding station (bird table etc). There are even arguments against creating this sort of dependence in wild creatures but, as you say, it only seeks to replace what we have taken away in the first place by habitat destruction etc.

The Lammergeier would be in a pretty poor way in the Pyrenees and Alps if it were not for supplementary feeding and organised release programmes.

Llama: I hope this is not too far "off topic". I will put something up about Lapland very soon, I am way behind, I'm off to Venice for a week in a few days (I need a break).

lorenzothellama said...

Do I hear a touch of hyprocicy here Maalie? Maybe my memory is longer than yours, but I recall birds brought back to our family home in various stages on illness, injury or babyhood, when we were children.
I can also remember sharing a bathroom with a Herring Gull for a week, which so traumatized me as a child I still furtively look around me when on the loo to see if there are evil yellow eyes staring at me balefully.
A baby jackdaw that had fledged too early lived to tell the tale and used to regularly visit us after it left, a very healthy and happy bird.
And ... a little bit of sentiment never hurt anyone!

Maalie said...

> a little bit of sentiment never hurt anyone!

Ah, sentiment, that's different! "Sentiment is more than skill" in the words of my old school song.

That is different from sentimentality!

Now if you excuse me, I have some unpacking do do, my house is in a shambles!

lorenzothellama said...

Oi! You don't get away with this so easily! What about all the angst you caused your mother and sister with the repeated rescue of disabled birds?

lorenzothellama said...

Sing! boys, sing!
Floreat Sodalitas
Little matter, well or ill,
Sentiment is more than skill,
Sing together with a will
Floreat Sodalitas
'tas Colchestriensis

Jemima-Jemoo said...

I enjoyed reading the blog and also the comments, they have rather cheered me up from an otherwise meepy day.

I can´t help but think that having the compassion to care about a helpless fledging is a commendable thing. You can´t have too much compassion can you? Though part of being compassionate is to be able to do what is in the best interests of the thing you have compassion for, not simply what you want to do for them. It is part of what makes us human, eh Jimmy? (Thinking of our long conversation in Poynton the other month). xxx

Maalie said...

> Though part of being compassionate is to be able to do what is in the best interests of the thing you have compassion for

The key to this superficially laudable statement is of course best interests

Is it really in the "best interests" of a prematurely-fledged bird to be artificially reared and then to be released into a hostile environment (euphemistically called "returning it to the wild", presumably to be "happy")?

Fledglings learn from their parents (what they don't carry inherently) how to look for food, where to roost, what are the warning sights and sounds of the world. Without this "training" a fostered bird is likely to die a long slow lingering hungry death. Or, more kindly, be gobbled up quickly by a sparrowhawk.

Nature is not kind or compassionate. There is no "plan" in nature. It operates with cold, arbitrary indifference. It simply doesn't care.

lorenzothellama said...

Of course nature cares! I care and I'm part of nature!

The birds weren't fostered, they were just given a helping hand on the way, in the form of a few lumps of cat food and diversion tactics with a cat.

The Lone Beader said...

Awww... cute post! I love baby birds, and Badger!

(The cat is ok, too. LOL)

Ted M. Gossard said...

Yeah, it looks the way you describe it, but we don't see the full story for each of the victims in China or anyone else for that matter.

But what we do see is God becoming human and entering into this broken world to ultimately make new all of the old of creation.

I have to be faithful to what the Bible as God's word says, but it doesn't fill in all the blanks. We're in for a few surprises in the end.

And you're more than just a random, chance filled accident, Maalie. You're a special creation and you enjoy creation.

In Jesus we find what each of us is meant to be, and it definitely includes what you do (Psalm 8).

Ted M. Gossard said...

Lovely post, Lorenzo. And I love the interchange here between you and Maalie. Good points from each of you, I think.

Yes, birds were a part of our upbringing, too, where my mother still lives.

We had certain ones that dived at us. Were they swallows of some sort? I can't remember. We had a Martin bird house, more like a hotel for them, around 24 rooms or holes for nests, I think. A little house for wrens as I recall. Hummingbird feeders, and I still remember those little things. Of course, sparrows galore.

Even here where we live we see some pretty birds here and there. We have a small feeder in our front yard. Fun to watch birds come.

I love gold finches and some other birds as well. And their sounds. Love to hear them "sing".

Anonymous said...

Jemima - did you pull a frogface when you got called 'superficially laudable' by Maalie?

Maalie - you really like the cold indifference of nature don't you!
There are two interesting threads here - first, whether or not we should show compassion to baby birds, which can be debated on scientific grounds, and second, given that we have compassion,
how do we apply it, which Jemima was thinking about. The nature of nature doesn't really come into it.

If you keep making these bombastic statements on the heartlessness of nature, this will end up degenerating into another Christian vs atheist debate, or maybe that's what you want?!


simon said...

oooohhhh I pet baby crow would be fantastic!

Alsmost as good as my pet Magpie

simon said...

ps maalie you are runcible

Maalie said...

Well, I guess it is OK to give a crow a bit of food. But you say you were being mobbed by the parent crows which suggests to me that it was still being cared for. This invariably happens and is the reason why the official advice given by the RSPB is not to touch any young birds that you find. Even if you can't see the parents, they could be lurking under cover nearby with a bill stuffed with caterpillars waiting to be shoved down the throat of the chick.

Jack, no not trying to make this religious at all, merely trying to reflect on the wisdom of interfering with nature.

An icy-cold, arbitrary, indifferent flow of energy through the biosphere. No kindness. No cruelty. No preconception. No plan. Just cold, arbitrary indifference. It will go on like that until our sun exhausts its energy and it will all be over.

It is only human vanity which prompts us to consider that there must be a "purpose". There is no purpose. You should live from day to day and grasp your opportunities as they arise.

lorenzothellama said...

"An icy-cold, arbitrary, indifferent flow of energy through the biosphere. No kindness. No cruelty. No preconception. No plan. Just cold, arbitrary indifference. It will go on like that until our sun exhausts its energy and it will all be over."

OK, if that is true, why do people feel compelled to help little creatures that can't help themselves. I'm not alone here, I think most people would help a struggling animal.

That baby crow's parents weren't actually feeding the baby. It had got itself cornered in a place inaccessable to the parents. They just couldn't get themselves in, so they were generally hanging around. I didn't stroke it!

It makes me so cross when I see nature programmes and the cameramen and all the technicians involved in the filming deliberately let a baby animal die, rather than just pointing it in the right direction, as a help. I know all the arguments about survival of the fittest, but as Susan said earlier, if help hadn't been forthcoming, she would have died aged three. Do you really think that children who are born with a congenital disability, an illness or merely premature, should be left to flounder around until nature does it's worst?

Maalie said...

>why do people feel compelled to help little creatures that can't help themselves.

I think that should be written as "Why do some people..."

I guess that the vast majority of the world's people who (thanks to their almighty everlasting heavenly father) are starving and malnourished, would have seized the chance to catch that crow for the stew pot (and the Coal Tit too). It is really only the wealthy that can afford to take such a sloppy attitude.

Of course we must give sick people the medical care that they need. Humans have a brain evolved to exercise the process of conceptual thought and, so far as we are aware, are the only animals aware of the notion of "self". But the rate at which we are destroying the planet, better brains than mine suggest only a few more decades of this frantic economic and population growth.

Did the "go slow" on Manchester's roads affect you?

Are we going to see any more of Peru?

lorenzothellama said...

Hmmph. How do you feel about organisations like the RSBP, who actively encourage farmers not to shoot birds of prey, use pesticide for their crops etc.? The RSPB has engineered the reintroduction of red kite and other rare birds. They keep watch over osprey and golden eagle nests. Do you think they would be offended because some sheila shoved some cat food down the throat of a baby crow?

The demonstrations in Manchester only affected me in as much that the bloke before me at the dentist was late because of the snarl up on the M6 and I had to wait for 10 minutes before I was seen, which enabled me to sit back and read girlie magazines, a rare treat!

Yeah, I'll put some more photos on Peru up.

Martin Stickland said...

Just thought I would mention that Tesco's are doing a deal on chickens at the moment, only four squid each!

Maalie said...

>Do you think they would be offended because some sheila shoved some cat food down the throat of a baby crow?

PMSL! No of course they would not be offended! They would try to recruit you as a member (if you're not already) and use your subscription to pay for the good work that you describe. The bulk of their membership comprises people like you ("robin-strokers", we call them). They would send you magazines with articles giving advice about what to do with an apparently abandoned baby bird.

I'm pretty sure they wouldn't suggest knocking it on the head, but they most definitely would recommend quietly retreating in order to leave the matter in the hands (or should I say wings) of mummy and daddy bird who know best.

lorenzothellama said...

Patronizing Brute!! Robin strokers indeed! Actually once I had a rather nice boyfriend called Robin.
I am a member of RSBP, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth and a couple of other hippie organizations!
What does PMSL mean? Is it something you put in lonely hearts ads. like GSOH?

Maalie said...

Let's just say that the MSL stands for Pxxxx My Self Laughing!

Jemima-Jemoo said...

Maalie: that was unthoughtful of you to refer to what I said as "superficially laudable" - I specifically worded my comment to include your point of view, I believe that compassion involves thinking clearly about what is best for the thing you feel compassionate towards. I have no idea what would be the best thing for the fledgling, though I know that in Lorenzo´s position I think I would have done the same thing. Saying that I recently walked away from a mewling kitten because I didn´t have time to save it. There are so many kittens and dogs here that need saving that I have had to grow a thicker skin.

I do think it is generally good to follow your instincts with compassion/sentiment when you can -even if it is the wrong thing then at least you get an opportunity to reflect on your mistakes. Sounds to me like these fledglings would have died anyway, so why not try and save them? (I should have saved the kitten as was my instinct, as somebody later offered to house it). I also think that through these little acts of compassion, we can inspire ourselves and other people into helping other sentient beings that also could do with a helping hand, or a chunk of catfood.

And finally, in response to "It is only human vanity which prompts us to consider that there must be a "purpose"." - I happen to think it is also pretty vain to make statements that negate the possibility of a purpose. The truth is we don´t know, and just because science is the prevalent way in which we understand the world in the West at the moment, it doesn´t mean that we have an answer to everything, it is only a part of human knowledge. As humans we are so so fallible. We are stupid enough to be annihalating ourselves. That doesn´t inspire me to think that any declaration about what is or what isn´t is necessarily correct.

Jack - I did pull a frog face. Better that than a pelican face.

lorenzothellama said...

Oh Jemoo. How well said! I wish I was as eloquent as your are!

Maalie said...

Jemima: Oh dear, I really didn't mean to cause offence. I accept that the remark was made too hastily and I withdraw it. Sorry.

I would just add to this:

>I happen to think it is also pretty vain to make statements that negate the possibility of a purpose.

The problem is that there is absolutely no evidence to support a hypothesis of "purpose". Just because we, as humans, conduct every single action in our lives with some "purpose" in mind is not evidence that nature as a whole has one.

I understand your points about compassion, that is a singular human trait, but I think it can be misguided. What is the point of giving life to a creature for a few more days only for it to die of painful hunger a little later? Doesn't it only serve to feed the ego of the person doing it?

Maalie said...

P.S. Please can we see a picture of your frog face?

Barbara said...

I never realised that you had 4 children and how hard it must be with them so far away.

M.KATE said...

Very nice post on birds, never seen them so little before :)

Martin Stickland said...

Get out of bed you lazy moo!

One pigeon pie to go please!

Have a nice Sunday Lorenzybum

Merisi said...

Can I just say that I would have been compelled to at least think about how to give that baby bird another chance? ;-)

I do carry spiders in my home out of harm's way, or what I think is a safe place. Not that any of them ungrateful creatures has ever sent me a thank you letter. Quite possible that, as I had lovingly deposited them on the window sill, they were all eaten by some hungry unenlightened bird! (Take that, Maalie! *grin*)

Magdalene said...

Hello everyone! So nice to know that the sibling bickering is still up to scratch in my absence. You two are hilarious.:-)

I'm having my early mornings disturbed by a great spotted woodpecker who has discoverd the peanut feeder outside my bedroom window. He a colourful chap, if somewhat voracious, but the recently fledged blue and great tits seem to be holding their own.

lorenzothellama said...

Mags: you could always try a catapult for the woodpecker.

Merisi: Spiders freak me out, but I don't kill them. Dealing with them is one of the few jobs men are for. Another job is doing your zips up!

Maalie: Peter and I went out to dinner Saturday night with a vet and his wife. The vet agrees with you about baby birds. He said their surgery gets full of baby birds in shoe boxes that well meaning people have brought in. He tucked into his steak pie with gusto, musing to himself on whether the bull in question what one that he had seen off the previous week!

Maalie said...

As a matter of fact, I was about to concede on the grounds I was feeling outnumbered.

>Another job is doing your zips up!

Or to unzip...

Merisi said...

No arachnophobia here, Lorenzo,
I observed too many spiders weaving their huge beautiful nets when I grew up. I think they are actually cute and industrious creatures (and I prefer them to pet rats!).

Zip? And here I am, thinking that this file format has gone out of favour! I have a big pile of those, and good to know that there are men out there who may be able to still open and read them!

Here I have another "fledgling bird fallen out of his nest" story for you. (And yes, even Maalie may go and have a look!)

Maalie said...

Well, I have to say that I don't think much of CrazyCath's identification skills! She calls it a yellow tit (there is no such thing, not in Europe, anyway) it is of course a juvenile Blue Tit!

Merisi said...

@ Maalie:
Now you make me feel bad about having exposed her to your critical scientist's eyes! :-(
Maybe a comment of your Majesty would clear the little misidentification?

NaNcY said...

lorenzo, i enjoyed this post.

love the last shot of badger!

CrazyCath said...

A truly enjoyable post. And the comments. I concur with Jemima of course but you and Maalie know that.

And Maalie - if you have read my post and seen my ignorance - the least you could do is gently correct me in the comments! I don't pretend to be an expert. I have always known those birds as yellow tits. I grew up learning birds and names from my father - so blame him! I am not too proud to be corrected by those who know far more than me about birds but please do me the courtesy of correcting me at my post rather than elsewhere...

(This is tongue in cheek Maalie - my "SOH" is very dry...) but I make my point... :0) (I would make it at your site but you made the comment here so I respond...)

If it is any consolation Lorenzo - I would have done exactly the same. And at least you didn't pick the bird up. I had to - it had already been handled by hundreds of children! I doubt it stands much chance therefore but I could only put it back and hope... no matter what it was called!

CrazyCath said...

PS Lorenzo - thanks for the heads up. I have now amended my information on my post accordingly!

Maalie said...

Ooops! I seem to be offending everyone left right and centre here! No offence in tended, it is a lovely post overall!

CrazyCath said...

Thank you Maalie.
I was not offended at being corrected - only at it being done "behind my back" so to speak when clearly, in order to correct me, you must have read the post and could have corrected me there.

But you have put it right now. Thanks. And thank you for saying you like the post. I know you do - you don't strike me as some one who gives platitudes... :0)

lorenzothellama said...

That Maalie can be a right charmer when he puts his mind to it!

Just now when I was gardening, I noticed a little fledgling coal tit and he was obviously dying. It was so sad, his little beak was opening slightly and he looked so pathetic. I left him alone as I couldn't bear to watch him die. A little while later I went back and took the still warm body and buried it alongside Meg and Mushroom.

OK, sentiment apart, I find it so hard to understand why life is given, and then taken away again so soon. It all seems pointless.

Maalie said...

You have to look at it this way. There is a territory in your garden than through year supports a pair of Coal Tits. It is called the "carrying capacity". In summer when productivity is highest, it can support more, say the two adults and their chicks (maybe up to 12 in a coal tit). In the late summer there are now 14 birds in a territory that, in winter, will support only two. Twelve have to go. They can try to move away, but only into other established territories to compete with the incumbents. And so 12 have to die. Sadly it will be most of the chicks, because they are least experienced. If one of the adults dies (or gets eaten), it leaves "space" for another to survive and takes its place.

This is called "population dynamics" and the pioneer in this was David Lack who published it in a still classic work:
The Life of the Robin

Of course an ecologist could not agree that a life is "given". Who gave it?

lorenzothellama said...

Life 'given' is just an expression as you well know! Who gives it: God or Nature. Take your pick!

Thesaurus Rex said...

Why did you cut your dog's ear off?