And they are loud! Quarrelsome and bossy. Or thin, thread-like conversations and twitterings. Or searching and pleading for a parent to drop a little something their way for a snack. Sometimes there is no sound at all, just a quick skirmish and peck. It’s the season of juvenile birds.
They show up at feeders, a little disheveled, fluffy, undecided as to color, squawking for parental “input” but eventually discovering how to feed themselves. The youngsters of some species are almost the same size as their overworked parents but still sit tightly with beaks open, waiting for lunch. They try out new wings, quivering and tentatively flapping, sometimes rising a little and then resettling, and sometimes seemingly discovering the joys of flight in a bound. I haven’t been able to work out a pattern for maturation: Do larger birds take longer to mature, while small birds live quicker lives, from egg to sky in mere days? The bush-tits that crowded my suet feeder were fluffy one day and then too soon indistinguishable from the adults. But the teen-aged scrub jays are still careening around practicing their swoops and high-shouldered swaggers.
There is a lot of action around the feeders. As an experiment I put a rimmed dish on the fence near the water dish for birds that were less adept at perching on the vertical hanging feeder. I filled it with a suet block and sometimes cracked seed mix to see what was preferred. The jays make a show of possession but the smaller birds—not to mention the resident squirrel—show up and take their fill. It’s a parade of birds, a show of personality and tactics. Some come alone, quickly and with some stealth, while others come in flocks or pairs. It’s Grand Central for bird watching!
My favorite ones to observe are the young flickers. For such large birds with such powerful serious-looking beaks, they are shy and nervous feeders. I have at least two of them visiting. They avoid the jays for the most part but occasionally can be seen waiting under cover of the bushes to take their turn when the more aggressive jays take off. They creep out, talking quietly and eat large chunks of suet, carefully wiping their beaks between gobbles. Their coloring and markings are so beautiful but I am as drawn to their expressive eyes that seem to communicate both their fear and wonder simultaneously.
But there are two juveniles who never come to the suet feeder but who are even more thrilling: tiny hummingbirds! I am indebted to my astute neighbor who noticed them one day sitting on a wire strung to my house. Too tiny to see clearly and almost lost in the background of a leafy tree, still they caught her eye as “different.” Sure enough, as we watched, they were clearly testing their wings. Fluttering, rising off the wire, and then clinging to it. And then trying again, exercising tiny muscles, gaining confidence. I saw them several times now that I knew where to look. Every day they seem to alight but leave with more ease and determination; I can no longer tell them from their parents by their behavior.
In these standstill times when one day is too much like every other day of isolation and waiting, watching young birds appear, grow and explore, and merge into the flow of life is a real gift. Who knows what our own lifespan will bring us or how much time we have to experience what comes our way. Meanwhile, the birds are putting on a show and growing right before our eyes.