Do Birds Have Bratty Babies?

10 05 2010

Starling by Paul Brentnall

So today I’m watching these birds outside the window. Looks like Mom, Dad, and baby. The baby’s cheeping its head off. One of the parents repeatedly sticks its beak in the baby’s mouth–feeding it, I assume. Lovely family picture.

But after the parent stops dropping food down its throat, the baby squawks and squawks. It follows first one parent, then the other, hollering its little head off and flapping its wings. It doesn’t go very high or far, but it manages to annoy both parents, who are digging in the grass.

They both chirp angrily at it. At first it’s startled and falls back a bit, but after a few seconds, it begins pestering the adults again. The parents snap and peck at the baby a few times, which stops the squawks temporarily, but not for long. After several replays of this scenario, the bird I’ve pegged as the dad, mainly because it’s slightly larger, flies at the baby and attacks it with his beak. The baby jumps back, parries, then tries to protect itself as the torture continues. I’m about to go out and stop the bird abuse when the dad fluffs its feathers and flies off.

Is the baby cowed? For about a minute. Then it goes right back to pestering its mom. She turns and caws what looks like a lecture, with the little one backtalking most of the time. She turns her back and returns to digging. Emitting loud cheeps, the baby pecks at the mom’s tail and wings. She keeps ruffling her feathers and moving away, but baby persists. A car turning into the driveway sets them both into flight, but baby’s hot on mama’s tail, screeching the whole time, as they fly into the trees.

So what’s going on here? Looks almost like a human family with a bratty kid. Do birds have child protective services? For a while there, I thought the baby was a goner. However, I have to admit, for the most part, my sympathy’s with the parents. I would have been tempted to send that pain in the neck to a time-out branch.



3 responses

10 05 2010
Janice D. Green

I’ve watched a lot of fledglings on our deck where we have several bird feeders. The babies will stand in the bird seed with their beaks open waiting for the parent birds to feed them. Sooner or later tough love must set in until the bird catches on that it can peck for its own food now.

13 05 2010

You were going to interfere? Why may I ask? We as humans see the way we act as the correct way and feel that all other animals should follow our morals and ethics. We applaud animals that live in a similar fashion to us, kind loving monogamous parents for example. Yet frown up things like infanticide or attacking other birds. We love the monogamy of Swans yet the gang rape style of mating used by mallards is seen in disgust.

Parent birds are known for their attacks of their young. For example it’s common in Coots. The smallest of the brood is often pecked to death or left to starve if there’s too many to feed. Pelican chicks will often push other chicks out of the nest to ensure that it gets all the food and the other is left to starve or is predator feed.

It’s just the way of life, the starling chick could have been the runt from a fledged brood and the parents are trying to speed up its independence or something similar.

13 05 2010

Good points… but I can’t bear to see any creature hurt regardless of whether or not it’s nature’s way. And, yes, I suppose that is applying my values to the animal kingdom. I feel the same way when someone picks flowers or strips leaves from trees. I don’t think any living thing should be in pain.

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