Birds Feeding Their Young
Y OU will find it very interesting to peep into nests and see which birds are naked and which are downy, which can see, and which are blind.
By the river the little Water-hens come out of the egg as black fluffy balls with red heads, and swim away at once after their mother. But Kingfishers come out of the egg naked and helpless. They have to wait till their feathers have grown, before they can leave the nest, and meanwhile their mother feeds them with fish.
Then if you see a young Owl in its nest in a barn, or pick up a young Hawk which has fallen out of a tree, you will find that they are quite blind and helpless, though they are covered with down. Their mothers have to bring them insects, mice, and young rabbits till they are full-grown.
Those of you who live by the seaside know quite well the Gulls which fly out to sea and float on the waves. In the spring and early summer you may hear the young gulls, called Sea-mews or Kittiwakes, mewing like kittens on the ledges of the cliffs. They are calling to their parents to feed them (see picture, p. 71).
For though these young gulls can see and are covered with down, they are born so high up on the cliffs that they must sit and wait till they are strong. Even then they can only creep along the ledges till their wings are full-grown. They sit there with open beaks, crying to be fed, and the old sea-birds bring fish for them to eat. The common gulls, and the herring gulls, generally lay their eggs on islands, and the little ones swim about when they are only a few days old.
Or, if you live far away from the sea in the depths of the country, you will enjoy seeing the other kinds of birds feeding their young ones in the trees and in the hedges. Sometimes the mother does all the work, and sometimes the father takes his share.
Mr. Kearton, who knows so much about birds, tells us that he once helped in the feeding. One day he watched a mother Chiff-chaff bringing food to her five little ones in a nest under a thorn-bush. Chiff-chaffs are very small, graceful birds. Their back and wings are a kind of dull olive green colour, and their breast a yellowish white. The mother was bringing in caterpillars and flies, about four or five every five minutes, and she popped them into the little beaks stretched to reach them. As she worked, her mate flew first to one bough, then to another singing "chiff-chaff, chiff-chaff."
Mr. Kearton thought he would help the little mother. He collected some green caterpillars, and put them on the edge of the nest while she was away. Then he knelt down a little way off.
The mother flew to and fro at her work and looked at him as she passed, but he did not move. At last she picked up the insects he had brought and divided them among the little mouths. Then she flew away for more.
That little mother worked all day long, only resting for half an hour in the afternoon. She not only brought food, but also cleaned the nest between each journey, picking out the pellets of dung, and making everything clean and neat. I think she must have been very glad of the little heaps of insects which her friend put near her nest from time to time.
Tomtits are such bold little birds that you may often see them going in and out of a hole in some wall, or a tree stump, with insects in their mouths. The father and mother Tit both help in feeding (see p. 36). They go out and come back together, laden with caterpillars, and after giving them to the young ones they start off again, calling to each other as they go.
We had some young Robins once which were fed by three birds. They were born in the hedge of our garden. We called the third bird the uncle. He worked quite as hard as the other two. By-and-bye the old robins flew away. But the young ones stayed with us all the summer and used to hop about the dinner table and pick up the crumbs.
Blackbirds feed their baby-birds with large worms, which they pull to pieces, giving a bit to each. The jay looks as if she brought nothing, but she pours the food from her crop into the mouth of the little one. The mother pigeon throws the food up from her crop into her mouth, and the little pigeon puts its beak in at the side of its mother's beak and sucks out the food.
Most parent birds go on feeding the little ones for some time after they can fly. You may often see little sparrows or thrushes sitting in a row on a bough while the mother pops the food into their beaks. She begins at one end and goes quite fairly from one to another, each in its turn.
Watch for birds feeding young in the spring. Thrushes, sparrows, robins, tomtits. 1. In the nest. 2. Sitting on branches. 3. Small birds feeding a young cuckoo. 4. Young pigeon taking food from the mother.