Parenting practices vary greatly



There is nothing nicer than sitting by a small pond at sunset and surveying the scene. My eyes wandered about as I sat by my pond this weekend and easily I could see purple vetch, orange and yellow hawkweeds (or “paintbrushes”) adding nice color against the very green grasses and scouring brush profusely growing in this lush environment. Even the interesting grasses growing at the water’s edge looked very artistic seen against the darkness of the water where they grew. It was a simple scene but very lovely.

A pair of wood ducks nested on my pond this year, but I was away exploring the wilds of Newfoundland when the ducklings appeared. Wood ducks often nest high in a hollow tree, and it is very interesting to see the baby ducks leave their high nest site. With urgings from the parents, they leap into the air and fall gently to the ground. I would like to have seen that once again. They immediately go to water, and they start learning to live as wood ducks. If you are not familiar with this bird, look it up in your bird book. It is very colorful.

Shortly before I left on my trip, I had seen a spruce partridge or grouse on my lawn several times. I suspected it had a nest. This grouse is a beautiful bird, very chicken-like in its appearance and movements but more elegant. The male is especially colorful with his black face, neck and belly and a bit of red just above the eye. Both males and females have a chestnut band on the tip of the tail. Spruce grouse tend to be very tame when you find them, so you can see them very well. One day when we were walking on a remote shore in Newfoundland, we saw a spruce grouse just a few feet away on the forest floor near us. This bird is aptly called “a skulker of the dark under story.” They are not as numerous here on this island as are the ruffed grouse or partridge, but they do live and breed here and in the northern woods.

A friend on Islesford had an interesting observation this week. She called to tell me about an adult catbird and three young birds, still with downy “baby” feathers sticking up on their heads, on her feeder. The parent bird was teaching them about eating suet. The suet chunk at one point was a little too big, and some of it dropped below to another feeder. The adult bird quickly went after it and brought it back to the young ones to eat. Nothing was going to waste. It is very interesting to watch birds training their young to eat. Song birds really do a lot of teaching and showing their young where to find food and what and how to eat it. Ducks, on the other hand, even without parental direction, have about a 50-50 chance for survival. Sea birds bring fish to their young at first, and then when they leave the nest and are out on the ocean waters, the new birds have to feed themselves. Little baby killdeer are hatched fully feathered and ready to run and find their own food. A snapping turtle lays her eggs and covers them up. That’s the end of her parental duties. How different all the creatures are. We humans never seem to stop parenting.

Because of the harsh and very long winter we experienced, it almost seemed as if flowers that normally come in an orderly progression came almost all at once. I noticed that the farther north we drove, and in Newfoundland, early-and late-spring flowers and early-summer ones all were overlapping their blooms. Sheep laurel is now keeping the sides of the roads and trails a lovely pink. When I left earlier in June, rhodora was in bloom here, and it continued to be very beautiful as we went farther north. The usual progression of blooms is rhodora first, and when it fades out, wild azalea comes into bloom.

Eider families are feeding along the shores of our island. If you spend a little time at places like Seawall, you can watch small groups of as many as 20 or 30 babies with a few females and maybe one male escort feeding close to shore. The females “baby sit” for each other. Some feed while others keep watch over the young ones. They take turns. Eagles are always interested in baby ducks, and some gulls, too, will eat them if they get an opportunity. Large fish may approach from below.

In the baby bird season, it may be tempting to try and help baby birds you think are lost or forgotten. They are often fine, and most always it is best to leave the young ones alone unless they are clearly in immediate danger. Touching a baby bird does not make the parents reject it. The parent bird will take back their offspring readily. The problem of such an encounter is leaving your human scent on the young one, and in that way, leading predators, such as dogs and cats, right to the birds.

Of course, there can be times when human intervention is needed, as it was when I came upon a baby phoebe hanging upside down on the porch. I thought it had gotten caught in a spider’s web, but it turned out that it had been tangled up with some monofilament that had been used in making its nest. Every time the young bird tried to fly off, it was yanked back. In this case, I was able to free the bird from the monofilament and let it go. Human help was a necessity in this case.

Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.


Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.
Ruth Grierson

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