Mama’s keeping track

I have been watching a pair of House Wrens rear their chicks for a couple of weeks. A few days ago (which turned out to the the last day the chicks occupied their nest box – as the following day they had fledged), I aimed the lens and captured the parent birds feeding their babes. When I reviewed the photos I came to realized something quite interesting. I’m not saying that this isn’t old news to the seasoned Birders or professional Ornithologists, but it was the first time I witnessed the phenomenon.

Mama arrived with a tasty grasshopper for her chicks and Chick #1 was ready to snatch it right out of her beak. But, that’s not what transpired in the series of photos I captured.

Mama lands and catches her balance as Chick #1 explodes from the portal with a gaping mouth, ready to receive his snack. In doing so, he presses his sibling back into the nest box.

Mama seems ready to deliver the green goodie and Chick #1 is poised for the transfer.

In the very next frame, success appears undeniable – Chick #1 is bound to receive the meal.

While Chick #1 clings to the portal appearing to be prepared to leave the nest in order to get his lunch, his mother has pulled back and perches atop the box. Is she trying to lure him out and achieve his fledgling status?

Is she teasing her chick? Or merely denying him the grasshopper?

Seconds pass as Mama Wren refuses to deliver the insect to Chick #1.

Interestingly, Chick #1 seems to get the message. This juicy snack is not his. He retreats back inside the portal.

Without any determined takers, Mama dangles the treat over the edge of the box.

Chick #2 needs a bit more encouragement to meet his parent half-way.

Mama leans over to present the meal to #2.

But, once again she pulls it back from his grasp, as she had with his sibling.

Is Mama taunting #2 to reach out of the portal and prepare for his departure into the big world? Or is she just keeping tabs on which chick is next in line for his meal?

What ever the mother bird’s intention, she does lean in and appears to deliver the insect to Chick #2. It looks like that grasshopper is half way down his throat!

But, again, she retreats with the food.

There she remains, with that bug just hanging within an inch of #2’s grasp.

Will this be the time she will give it up to her chick?

The very next frame show that transfer complete, but my human brain tells me that Chick#2 isn’t all that happy about the meal. I’m pretty sure that’s just my personal gag reflex influencing me!

Mama supervises her babe while I have childhood memories of my mother saying, “eat all your food.”

Helicopter parenting; “did you swallow it?”

Mama seems satisfied. However, I am left wondering if she excluded Chick #1 because he was not next-in-line or because he had already shown her that he was willing to fly-the-coop, so to speak. Perhaps, she denied him in order to encourage Chick #2 to be as brave to break the plane of the portal so that he would be able to fledge the next day.

From what I could tell based on my photos, there were three chicks, and #3 probably needed more support and encouragement from his parent than even Chick #2. I wonder if Mama Wren and Papa Wren discuss their kids’ strengths and weaknesses in the evening as they cuddle up after a hard day of feeding the brood. I can just hear them:

Mama: “That #1 is going to get himself killed with that fearlessness!”

Papa: “Dear, I have many more worries about #3. She’s never going to make it is she doesn’t step up and take control of her wings!”

the day after they fledged, I could hear House Wren scolding vocalizations in the area of the box where the chicks had spent the first few weeks of their lives. The parent birds had made the same tone just before they would fly to the box with food, and the chicks would make a baby-voice version of the same. I hope they all survived their few few, perilous days and are now on their way to truly gaining their wings.

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