Fun with Fledglings

It’s fledgling season on the feeder.

There are, at the moment, young house finches, titmice, bluebirds, and one glum young female cardinal. While visually almost indistinguishable from the adults, they can be told apart by behavior. They are trying to use the feeders. They are not good at it. They fly as if held aloft by sheer terror, flapping frantically, getting confused in midair, and attempting to hover, which is not a skill widely possessed by non-hummingbirds, and results in the poor bird going briefly backwards before careening into the tree, scrabbling and flapping for a foothold, and then clinging to the bark like a survivor of the Hindenburg finally reaching solid ground.

The house finches are the most graceful of the bunch–and I use the term loosely–presumably requiring less landing space, but even so, they’ll land on the feeder and continue to flap madly for a few seconds–“Am I down? I don’t know if I’m down! OHGODIFISTOPFLAPPINGILLFALLINHOTLAVA!”*–before finally settling and discovering that their feet are, indeed, capable of holding them to an object. The bluebird charges for the suet feeder, misses, hits the tree, flaps, tries to proceed downward in a series of flapping vertical lunges, and eventually manages to snag the feeder and cling for dear life. (I think it’s a juvenile, although it seems to have more blue than the images of immature bluebirds in the guides. It’s possible that it’s an adult who’s suffered some kind of severe mental trauma. In my yard, this would be par for the course.) Eventually, an adult male bluebird, like a rogue bit of demin, lands neatly, eats some suet, and flies away, with nary an extraneous wingbeat. Show-off. Panicked, the juvenile lumbers into the trees.

The cardinal is serious. The cardinal knows how to fly–mostly–and she is haughtily disdainful of the other birds. Idiots, the lot of ’em. She sits solemnly on the platform feeder, cracking safflower seeds with her heavy orange beak, and pretending she doesn’t know any of these people.

The tufted titmice are younger than the others, and not yet adept at feeding themselves, so they stomp around the deck, doing the rapid-wing-vibration thing and shrieking to be fed. Somewhere an adult titmouse is counting to ten and massaging its temples. The cardinal ignores them grimly. A house finch swerves to avoid them, tries to land on the edge of the birdbath, panics at the last minute, and aims for the deck. He hops up onto the birdbath edge, gazes at the water. Should he lean down to drink? No, that can’t be right. He hops down onto the deck again. No, now he can’t see the water. He hops onto the edge. There’s the water! He hops down. It vanishes. Baffled, he attempts to use his amazing Finch X-Ray Vision and stare through the side of the birdbath. It remains stubbornly opaque. Curses! Must be made of Kryptonite.

Then the squirrel comes. It’s Scrawny, the least threatening of the squirrels, slinking apologetically between the railings. Scrawny would probably lose in a fight against a baby titmouse. Scrawny is not officer material. However, the birds lose their minds immediately–A SQUIRREL! Possibly made of hot lava! FLAP FOR YOUR LIVES!–and explode off the deck. Scrawny looks guilty. Scrawny ALWAYS looks guilty. Peace reigns briefly on the deck once more.

*I’m extrapolating from my own childhood here. It’s possible birds don’t play “hot lava.”

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