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.