our stories: WILDLIFE Big Bird: Baby Bird to The Trials of Parenting BY KRISTIN AUGUSTINE MAY 2016 PA R K E R C O U N T Y T O D AY P arenting is a tough job. You work dawn to dusk to earn a living and to keep bread on the table, you knock yourself out teaching them life skills, and what thanks do you get? “Mom, I’m hungry. Got any extra bugs?” and “Dad, I’ve gotta stay here for a few more days, just until I get on my feet, okay?” Fledging babies is a tough job, but it has got to be done. Born both featherless and blind, songbird nestlings spend the first few days able to do little more than raise their heads and open their mouths. But that’s enough to encourage mom and (usually) dad to fill those hungry mouths with soft insects about every 20 min utes. As they grow, nestlings become even louder and more insistent. You can tell when mom or dad are approaching the nest because the kids all start screeching for attention. “Over here!” “No, no, no, no, not here; me first this time!” “Me, me, me, me, ME!” The feeding intervals increase, the size of the meals increase, and the intensity of hungry cries definitely increase. When baby songbirds leave the nest--about three 52 weeks after hatching--they are fully feathered and very nearly the size of their parents. But parental responsibility doesn’t end when the kids leave home. Since Mom may be nesting again, Dad will often take the lead in working with the fledglings, teaching them how to hunt, what to eat, and where the best feeders are. You’ll recognize juvenile birds by their juvenile behav ior. A young songbird, fully as large as an adult, will perch on a limb or sit on the ground, wings spread and quivering, trying to catch the attention of a nearby adult. “I can’t possibly be expected to fly. What am I doing with these huge feet? They’re going to get in the way, you know.” And “Hey! I’m hungry!” The kids do look pitiful and starved, even though they are quite capable of feeding themselves. The need for help is gone, but the behavior persists. Juveniles tend to screech and to shove their wide-open mouths in the path of any passing adult. This ploy is apparently successful often enough that some young keep at it for a while after leaving the nest.