I looked out the window this morning to see a male red-bellied woodpecker feeding seeds to what appeared to be a female. "Oh good,"I thought. "Something to post in my sidebar under the Through the Kitchen Window heading. How romantic." But the drama continued and turned into fodder for this post.
A moment later, I realized that the Will You be my Honey? season is long gone. By now, aviary males and females have met, mated and reproduced. This woodpecker was feeding a baby... a gargantuan baby. The baby was the same size as his father. I watched him drop two or three more sunflower seeds into the impatient young one's mouth. Then, because he was the father, he did not hover for a second longer than necessary. He flew off and left the little black-headed baby to fend for himself.
The red-bellied baby clung to the fence and peered at the seed trays below. He wore a puzzled expression. He boosted himself down into the tray of corn kernels and wrapped his beak around one seed. It promptly flew out of his mouth and hit the ground. He tried again a few more times with the same results. He was a pretty smart little guy. He figured out all by himself that this was not working. He stopped spraying corn kernels about and looked around for the tasty sunflower seeds his papa had been feeding him. He located them eight inches away. He hopped into the sunflower feeder and began to feast. This baby did not drop a single seed. He did not leave either. I began to get bored watching him gorge himself and turned to make my morning coffee frappuccino.
When I turned back, he was still eating. A flash of red caught my attention in the foliage overhead. The papa was back and he had a second baby with him. The mother was nowhere to be seen. She was either home cleaning the nest... or... in tears because her babies were getting so big....crying because she couldn't handle the fact that they were preparing to move out. I'll bet that was the reason. It was left to the papa to teach the birds to fend for themselves just like it will be left to my Paul to teach the children how to drive.
The second baby clung to the tree trunk. The papa brought seeds from the feeder and dropped them into the baby's mouth. He nudged the hungry one toward the feeder but that little guy dug in his toes and would not be moved. The father brought a few more seeds and nudged again. Again with no results. The father shook his head and clucked his bill irritably.
A blue jay came to the feeder. He is at the top of the feeder pecking order and so the father and his timid baby and his stuffed baby flew into the treetops. They did not return.
They left me thinking about friends that have children who have left the nest. Some of these children quickly got their feet under them and have moved into adulthood successfully. Other fledglings have gone and returned a few times. Their entrance into adulthood was awkward and precarious though they eventually landed on their feet. I'm sure we'll have some of each kind when our children reach the age where they stretch their wings and soar... or tumble headlong... toward independence. I'm also sure I'll be like that timid mama bird who can't bear to watch as they leave.
Addendum: Stuart has been out of town three out of the past four weeks. I got the following e-mail from him after he read this post:
I think the mama is probably dancing for joy that the papa took the kids along for a change instead of leaving them with her!
I love you!!