Young birds adjust to life out of nest

Once a year, for a relatively short time, we are treated to the antics of young birds learning to “make their way in the world.” Once their parents are no longer herding them about the yard, they take a second look at what is going on around them. They are interesting to watch and often comical.

Two chickadees contemplating a trip to the bird bath reminded me of someone who pokes a toe in the water first. If you’re a small bird, this is more to test the water’s depth than its temperature. You don’t want to plunge right in until you know how far that plunge will take you.

The two appeared to be having an argument over the procedure. If one of them got too close to the other, mouths opened wide and head feathers were ruffled. “Don’t you push me,” was definitely on their minds. Then one bird landed on the dripper tube, not to drink from the dripping water but for a better vantage point. Its sibling was sitting on the edge of the bath, staring into the watery depths and getting up its nerve. While the bird on the dripper wavered between water and dry land, the other plunged right in.

It just may have been the shortest bath on record but that didn’t stop the bragging. You could easily imagine what its chattering was about. “See, nothing to it, you’re just a chicken.” Those fighting words triggered another spat that resembled two youngsters threatening to push each other in.

A quick dip was all that the more timid of the two could muster. Then, as if nothing had happened, there was a shake of feathers and off they flew. They had survived a bath and were off to tell the world about it. It was a small thing but a giant step for them. The fear of the water in the bird bath was probably gone forever.

Young towhees and sparrows watch their parents find food on the ground to poke into their waiting gapes. It looks so easy. When their parents are no longer feeding them, they emulate what they have seen. Trouble is they don’t seem to know what’s edible and what isn’t.

They keep picking up anything that isn’t tied down to see if it’s worth swallowing. A human’s facial expression isn’t possible for birds, but they still can convey a look of puzzlement. “Is this any good? How did the folks know what to pick up?” Eventually, they will not only be scratching about in good ground feeder form, they’ll chase away any other towhee or sparrow that encroaches on their territory.

Young hummingbirds greet the world in good teenage style. It’s as if they’re driving a jazzed up sports car and they love putting it to the test. They joust with one another and hassle other small birds. I’ve seen them buzz the chickadees and always wonder why. One reader shared her enjoyment of watching a hummer try to chase a butterfly away from a flowering plant it didn’t want to share.

These mischievous mites often seem to need a lesson in manners. Still, they are wonderfully entertaining, especially when the object of their show-off flying is you. They will buzz humans and are impressive when they hover inches from your face and stare at you. What is going through those tiny brains?

The time frame for observing and enjoying young birds passes quickly. We are well into it already. Take a second look out the window. Some welcome chuckles just may be waiting.

Write to Joan Carson, PO Box 217, Poulsbo, WA 98370. Include a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a reply.