Friday, April 13, 2012

Do Birds Mourn?

Oh nature, you've made me sad this week. I noticed that the brown-headed nuthatches were feeding away and I was excited by the prospect of fledglings. I'm somewhat frustrated in that I can't view the babies in their nest, deep in the caverns of a pine snag. Bluebirds in a box are easily monitored and I am spoiled by their accessibility.

Everything was fine. Adult birds in and out with the insects necessary for baby birds. Then, one day I noticed an adult standing sideways on the snag, insect in mouth, but not entering the hole. It flew up into a pine tree and returned, still with the insect in its mouth. Something didn't feel right, but I had other things to do around the yard and I don't like to disturb the birds during feeding time, so left and really didn't give it a second thought. I was hopeful that perhaps this was fledging day and some were gone and a runt was left for mom/dad to take care of.

Then, the next day came and I heard the nuthatch adults high in the trees, but with an extra squeak to their call. None came by the nesting hole for hours, so I thought that fledging must have taken place and I headed over to be "nosey". I noticed a few feathers caught under the bark so I lifted it up a bit thinking that baby birds may not have the best aim and had brushed against the side. Iwas met with the tragedy of nature. A dead nuthatch, which looked like an adult to me, blocking the nesting hole and missing a few parts. I'm very dismayed.

I'm also stumped by what predator might have gotten to them. I assume that a snake would have consumed the entire bird. I did chase a feral cat out of the yard about two weeks ago, but could it climb up 5 feet and hang on long enough to pull out a bird? Seems unlikely, and having a cat or two do in a bird, they always seem to make off with a whole bird, not leaving anything behind. There are owls and hawks and I suppose other birds that may be predators of young, small birds. I guess I will never know what happened. Sometimes nature can seem cruel but it is not up to the humans to determine what lives or dies. Mother Nature created the food chain and I'll just have to be accepting of the predators I like as well as the predators that make me sad. As I listen to the nuthatches with the extra squeak in their call, I wonder if perhaps that is their way to mourn.

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