Saturday, July 03, 2010

Do you hear what I hear?

The flowers in the garden are so thick and vigorous they are crawling over each other trying to escape the bed. Surrounded as we are by the astonishing wealth of nature, it's easy to become almost blind to it, but you really have to be deaf not to hear all that's going on around us.

Just now the neighbourhood pack of coyotes broke into one of their bloodcurdling choruses. I can't say it's a song I particularly like, unless I hear it from very very far away, and this was pretty close.

The last few nights I've been hearing the raspy "reeeeeekkkks" of a family of what sounds like three juvenile great horned owl chicks, begging for food. She brings the kids up and parks them in the trees while she hunts for the fat moths, and maybe the occasional bat, swarming under the streetlights on the street.

Three or four nights ago one of the owlets was parked on our next door neighbour's roof. Every so often the reeeek would turn into a gargling ruggleekruugreeeekkk as Mama Owl stuffed something into the demanding youngster's screaming and insatiable maw.

I heard the cries of a baby bird today and looked out the window to catch a flash of bright orange on the path in the garden. Closer inspection revealed that it was a male Bullock's Oriole feeding a very small chick which had managed to fall from the nest.

Knowing that a chick on the ground has absolutely no chance of surviving our resident mouser and bad cat (read opportunistic birder) I went out and caught the little oriole. It was the size of a small hen's egg, and while it could flap and glide, it could not yet fly. I put it as high as possible in the big willow, then thought, That was stupid! The cat will have it in a minute. I should have put it on a limb too small for the cat to climb on.

But it was too late. The chick was climbing up the bark and was well out of reach. I left it to its fate and came back to my housework. An hour later I went to find our Park Groundsman and who should come flying out of the tree and land at my feet but Baby Oriole. This time I was smarter. I carried him around and put him on a small branch which was inaccessible to the demon cat. It was sheltered by overhanging leaves high above. He held on and started calling his parents. ("He" could be a "her" for all I know, but I have to call it something and it just looked male to me.)

After two or three minutes of full-throttle screaming the Daddy Oriole appeared and shoved food down the gaping beak. Thirty seconds later Mother Oriole repeated the process. They must just have the one chick left because they fed it all afternoon except for a brief 20 minute break about 5:00 pm when I figure they must have collapsed in a heap and gobbled some dinner for themselves. Baby seems to have taken a nap, as he said not a word during that time.

All this time he was on the little branch but after dinner break the parents began a tag team effort to get him higher in the tree. One would bring food but lure the chick six or eight inches higher before feeding it. The other would stay at the chick's side flapping and encouraging the it to hop up. Once it was up the second parent would feed it.

In this way they had moved the chick into the higher branches before dark, to a place much less accessible to the cat. Now they just have to keep him warm for the night. I don't know if they have lost the nest, or if the chick left it too soon, and they were trying to lure it back. I hope they have a nest and can get it back in and all get a good night's rest. If anyone deserves it they certainly do.

The owls are reeeeeeking ever so often. They are closer than they've been all night. The crickets seem to have been sensible and gone to sleep. It's closing in on 3:00 am, and soon the dawn chorus will begin with a single trill. Time for an old insomniac to try once more for a few hours of sleep.

3 July Edit: Little Oriole survived a chilly night and is yelling his head off for food, which the parents are providing in 30 second shifts. I am ever so pleased. Ruth next door says it's okay to let a stranded baby bird die because, "It's nature." But I can't. I'm such a sucker. I'm the only person I know who rescues ants from the water in the sink. I take spiders and bugs outside, and even shoo flies out. Everything loves its own life. Even an ant.

4 July edit: 8:43 pm. Baby Oriole is still happily screaming for food, and still being stuffed by two obliging parents. He should be the size of a young turkey by now. Nature and nurture collide. I do hope he's not too fat to fly by the time he grows flight feathers. :)


7and7 said...

The softheartedness must run in the family, lol...but I do draw the line at most spiders and all snakes. They need to not cross my line of vision and we're okay.

Hope the baby can survive till it's time to fly!


Deb said...

He'll need a good grip as we have a wicked wind tonight. I hope the little fella can hold on.

You know your Grandma always said if it thundered on a clear day someone had killed a spider and made the Thundergods angry. We didn't kill spiders, we put them outside in case it was an "old one" visiting. (This from a "White woman" who supposedly had no Native blood. Yeah, right.)