15 May 2020

71. Chick Number 2

The second Grey Shrike-thrush to hatch was the piggy in the middle. Not the largest, it emerged from the egg the day after the first. An expert at craning her neck over the top of the smallest chick, it was fed twice as much, doing whatever it could to ensure it would survive.

Survival of the fittest is never more evident than with nestlings; especially nestlings who fledge in mid autumn and not in spring.

I was lucky enough to be around when Piggy flew to freedom. She looked large in the nest, but next to the wheel of the Can-am, she was quite small.

The top rack where the nest was located in a box of rivets was six feet off the ground. This first flight went for four metres on a downwards trajectory.

Falling to the cement floor of the garage, she stayed perfectly still in recovery. I put the dog back in its kennel and barricaded the area so my husband didn’t tread on the bewildered chick.

Frozen, Piggy wasn’t afraid of me, so I didn’t get too close, instead taking photos from a distance.

It’s interesting to see chicks free fall and half fly initially. It rarely hurts them. Something in their system compels them to leave ready or not, and to never go back.

I’ve put chicks back in the nest when they were still too small and downy, but they launch themselves out again. They may only move forward. Fledglings who go back to their nest after fledging are unceremoniously encouraged to fly on.

I have seen some parent birds give them a nudge, but most repeatedly take off beside them; eventually the babes emulate the pattern. They perch close to where they hatched for some security, like Piggy near the rivet box.

 It seems for all creatures: ‘There’s no place like home.’

Recovery time was slow at first, heart beating so hard and fast you would think the babe was having a heart attack. 

After an hour, the fledgling starts to look about, then hop and fly in short bursts of desperate flapping.

It flew into the Can-am, back up to the nest, onto another shelf and even rested for fifteen minutes between bags of building supplies.

From being almost comatose in shock, to exploring it’s new world in one afternoon.

I was privileged to mind it in the garage, standing guard along with the parents to make sure it wasn't trodden on, or run over by a vehicle.

Once Piggy’s heart rate slowed and she stopped panting, she looked about chirping for her parents.

Then jumped up on all sorts of tools and bags and wires and shelves for the next two hours. After a while the muscles in her wings firmed up with oxygen enriched blood. Once that happened, she could fly longer and stronger.

This is Piggy almost falling from the nest, using her arms like crutches to lever herself higher.

It was a tactic to get a better share of the food the parent Shrike-thrushes brought back to the nest.

Piggy barely had a cm of tail to act as a rudder, so she couldn’t fly high or glide yet; but despite all the clumsiness you could imagine, she managed.

She had trouble balancing and fell sideways every time her feathers were preened. But that was all okay because Piggy had a lifetime to perfect those things and this was only her first big day out. 

Finally outside in the bright afternoon sunshine, she became exhausted and needed to rest her eyes. Rocking sweetly on the gravel, I watched while she slept. This is the most vulnerable time for a chick. The father Grey Shrike-thrush whistled nearby, waking the babe to make sure she was okay. I found this endearing, a small intimacy you would never expect of birds.

Fed a steady diet of butterflies, caterpillars, frogs and slugs by both parents, her tail and wings will grow quickly. Both parents look after their babies diligently for weeks yet.

I am a birder and spending time watching little Piggy jump about in the garage was unforgettable.

Staying near the garage all morning watching a baby Grey Shrike-thrush see the world with fresh eyes might not be everybodys idea of wonderful, but it is mine.

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