July 14, 2015

Heartbreak Hotel

The fledgling.

This poor youngster landed on the cabin deck early last week. Parent birds keep an eye on fledglings like this one for some time after they leave the nest, bringing them food and doing what they can to help keep their offspring safe, but every so often there are extenuating circumstances (Fire Department to the Rescue! Happy ending!) and parents aren't around to help. This very young Red-breasted Sapsucker flew in at about nine in the morning, called for his family, preened a bit, pecked at the post, and looked tired. After a while he tucked his head under a wing and slept for a bit.

How I wish I'd offered him some food and water. But no, I was letting nature take her course [kicks self] and didn't want to frighten the parent birds, if they were nearby. They weren't. After several hours he launched away, fell to the ground, and died. 

I felt as if my heart would break, but a deceased fledgling can sometimes be a tiny bit of a deal, so like a good citizen scientist I placed the little guy's mortal remains in a baggie and put the baggie in a paper bag in the freezer. He'll go to legendary bird man Gene Cardiff at the San Bernardino County Museum. Mary Freeman, field trip leader for L.A. Audubon, was at the cabin on Saturday and wanted to take the fledgling to Kimball Garrett at the L.A. County Museum of Natural History, but I said no.  He's going to Gene. The fledgling will "play a vital role in advancing scientific knowledge," as the Smithsonian says. And his tag will always have my name on it, which is maybe the closest thing to immortality a provincial birder can hope for.

Side note: museum collections are awesome. They give me hope for humanity.

Local museums are usually happy to take bodies of wild critters of interest, provided said bodies are in good condition and have been frozen since the critter died. In other words, no mangled remains of something that has been lying on the road for a few days, ick. Unless it's an Archaeopteryx. Use common sense.

And finally, this was a new yard bird for me at the cabin. Such a sad way to add to the yard bird list, but at least it wasn't as bad as watching your life Mountain Quail being killed by a rattlesnake :~(

Here's a grown Red-breasted SapSucker, photographed by terrific local birder Tom Benson. I tell myself that the little one's spirit is having a great time flying around bird heaven.

Red-breasted Sapsucker

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