I’m not going to lie. I feel a bit silly, perhaps even dumb to share this story of discovery. But, the outcome is more worth sharing than the embarrassment I felt when I realized what I was observing.
First, I had just spent 45 minutes perched patiently outside Bluebird Nestbox #15 because it was obvious they were feeding baby chicks. I could tell based on the frequency the parents were entering the box. And, well, let’s face it they were carrying small morsels of food. It was a no-brainer, and it was exciting – especially so, since I had been so worried that our Bluebirds may have died during the extreme freeze during February. I’ll upload photos and videos of those new parents in a future post.
Once I left the Bluebirds, I traveled over to an area just east of the old barn. There are posts which remain from which the fencing has been removed. Robert keeps some of the grass there mowed down so I can move with the golf cart through that space. It is a great place for insect hunters to look for a meal. They will land on a post and scan for bugs, then drop down, snatch it, and often return to the same post to consume the meal. It makes capturing images of these lovely birds fairly easy. I have filmed Bluebirds, Eastern Kingbirds, Mockingbirds and a few of the flycatcher species working that area.
Right off the bat I saw a small, brown bird – clearly a sparrow species. I often struggle to identify a bird when I’m out in the field. I have distorted vision in my right eye. The image that I see is larger and crooked compared to what I see in my left eye. Vertical lines are warped and horizontal lines are not level. It makes for a challenging “in field” species identification. When I asked the ophthalmologist what could be done, she replied, “you have one good eye.” So, yeah. I just deal with it and accomplish the identification step once I download the pics to my office computer.
The little sparrow landed multiple times on top of the posts and I was pretty certain I got some good shots. I don’t want to seem ungrateful for having the opportunity to film the bird in fairly close proximity – that’s something I covet. However, I really prefer a natural background. While the posts added a rustic farm-y element, I had my hopes set on that dry, perfectly tilted piece of last autumn’s grass. The little bird was frequently landing on it. The stem shot up at an “artistic” angle from a clump of new, green grass. And, for some reason, that little bird was dropping down from the fence post to cling to the fine, brown stem nearly every time that it took flight. It would have made for a lovely photograph.
Here’s one shot where the bird landed on a spent, dead wild-flower stem – lovely and natural. Unfortunately, the grass in the foreground that obscured the bird’s head.
I tried to simply focus on the spot where the bird was landing most often and wait to click the shutter. But, of course the bird would not oblige me. It landed higher, lower, or not even on the stem. With each failure, I worked harder to get one good shot of that pretty, little creature with such a natural backdrop. I was laser focused on the task.
The sound of crows in the background broke my concentration. I love crows, but I haven’t had the chance to film one except in the tree tops. When I returned my attention to the goal at hand, everything came became clear. I took the time to ponder: why is this bird dropping down to that same, dang clump of grass over and over and over again? All of a sudden, the answer was obvious. The bird had a nest and it was taking food to the chicks. Yeah, Tammie, just like you were just watching over at Nestbox #15 with the Bluebirds for nearly an hour! Well, that was a bit disconcerting. How did I miss that? I will admit that I was not able to see that the bird had a mouthful of snacks in its bill when it flew to the spent grass. That only became apparent when I returned home.
There’s a phenomenon in humans; when we are ultra-focused on one task, we can utterly fail to see other activity that is staring us right in the face. I scoffed at myself. Howe could I have allowed my focus on the single, perfect picture cause such a failure to see the the obvious? More shortsighted was the fact that there were two parent birds feeding their chicks, and I hadn’t even noticed or evaluated that fact.
Once I sat back and just watched their behavior, I was able to see the process which was being repeated with great regularity. First, the bird perched on a post and looked for bugs below. Next, the bird dropped down to the grass, hunted down and nabbed the insect. Third step, the bird returned to a post, sometimes to readjust the grub in its beak or otherwise mince it in some fashion. Then, it dropped to a thin, grass perch near the nest, often for many seconds. Finally, it hopped into the nest and disappeared. At each stage the bird was diligently evaluating the environment for risks before moving to the next position. Smart, little birds.
I was ultimately successful at capturing the Song Sparrows as they delivered food to their chicks. Based on the size of the insects and the frequency of the feedings, I suspect the chicks are fairly well developed and it’s possibly a large clutch size.
This is the only shot I captured of a bird entering the nest. My attempt to focus on that stem and wait for the bird to land on it were never successful. But, at least you can get a sense of the mound of grass that protects the nest inside.
It’s staggering to know that there is a little, bitty nest with baby chicks hidden on the ground in a clump of grass. I’m not interested in breaking the natural sequence of the wildlife around me by investigating closer than I need to learn about them. If I want to see what a Song Sparrow nest looks like, I’m sure I can look it up on the internet. For that reason, I didn’t attempt to pull back the grass to expose the nest for my own pleasure or to post a photo. However, its mind-blowing to think that building a nest on the ground can be successful when you consider all dangers that loom. Still, Song Sparrows are very numerous around our property. I will treasure having witnessed, so up-close-and-personal, the industrious and determined parents tending to their young.
The most remarkable aspect of watching birds harvest insects for their chicks has to do with what I refer to as beak dexterity. I marvel at how they can accumulate a mouthful of many insects during a hunting expedition. In contrast, consider a bow hunter who is holding in his hands a few rabbits he just shot, while he continues to use the bow to hunt additional game. Then consider that we have fingers and thumbs while a bird only has a beak! Crazy mad skills those tiny birds possess!