A baby wonders about that big world outside his nest hole

Chestnut-backed Chickadee nestling

The black-capped chickadees are chattering up a storm in my cherry tree this afternoon as I sit in the sunshine — FINALLY, sunshine! — on my back porch. I’m pretty sure I see young ones chasing after their parents, squeaking to get fed. But baby chestnut-backed chickadees, unlike the black-capped, are still in their nest holes, getting fed every few minutes by their incredibly busy parents.

Chestnut-backed Chickadee feeding nestling

It’s like a little Chicago-O’Hare out there, except that there’s a greater frequency of midair near misses as one parent chickadee leaves the nest at the same moment the other tries to enter with the next meal.

Chestnut-backed Chickadee parents nearly collide trying to feed babies

Where on earth do they get all that food?

Although their equally cute relatives, Black-capped Chickadees, are firm carnivores (80%-90% of their diet consists of bugs, spiders, and other animal parts), Chestnut-backed chickadees generally eat a more balanced diet that also includes significant amounts of plant parts: around here, perhaps salmonberries and tiny seeds. According to Cornell’s bird website, they feed their nestlings mainly caterpillars and wasp eggs–but I sure haven’t seen any caterpillars yet this year. I’ll have to look more closely and see if I can find some, or perhaps figure out what else they might be feeding their fast-growing babies.   One youngster seems particularly demanding about getting fed; I’ll hear a particularly assertive PEEDEE and look up to see the baby’s head at the nest opening.

Hungry Chestnut-backed Chickadee baby

What must the world look like from this perspective, I wonder? Yes, the title of this blog post is anthropomorphic. To me, the chickadee nestling seems like a teenager, hungry enough to clean out the fridge daily and ask Mom and Dad for more, while at the same time yearning utterly and with his whole being to finally venture out on his own. Does the far-stretching view from his nest hole, with its astounding array of living greens and its Seattle-summer-blue sky and its dogs blissfully chasing balls thrown with plastic launchers and the good north wind, seem ineffably enticing or slightly unnerving? Or—to be dutifully non-anthropomorphic—does he simply see undefined colors and hear his parents’ whistles and know at some non-conscious level that he has to be out in it soon?

We can’t know, any more than we can understand how the teenager truly feels (even when we are that teenager). But I don’t necessarily think it’s inappropriate to anthropomorphize. In refusing to allow animals any human perceptions, isn’t it possible that we’re falsely denying them the possibility of personhood? And perhaps also denying ourselves the possibility of a deeply rewarding, authentic communion?

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2 responses to “A baby wonders about that big world outside his nest hole

  1. (Almost) all bird parents feed their young caterpillars, which is why it is so vital for biodiversity and all of our native fauna (not just birds) to plant native plants, i.e., the ones that the fauna have an intimate evolutionary relationship with. Non-native plants, including most of the trees and shrubs sold by your local nursery or big box store, simply don’t work. Check out Doug Tallamy’s “Bringing Nature Home” for more on what really is “bird food” (hint: it does not come in a bag from the store).

  2. Thanks for a great comment, Pete! I’m really glad to have your insight on the blog. I’m designing a new section of my (small) garden now and am focusing on native plants for exactly these reasons.

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