Journal Express, Knoxville, IA


June 28, 2013

Slices of Life: Life and death in the backyard


Nature is a harsh, albeit practical, entity. Newborn chicks without feathers or any chance of survival – like the first two dead birds we found – do not usually fall from their nests; they are pushed. This can happen accidentally, when babies jostle for food. Other times, a bird may be born with a genetic imperfection incompatible with life. A mother bird may push the dead chick out to make room for her growing brood. Or, in some preemptive cases, she may not wait for the chick to take its last breath before giving the heave ho.

Turns out, the little-bit-older, flutter-flying baby birds we saw probably were not pushed, nor did they fall. Fledglings leave the nest voluntarily a few days before they are skilled flyers to allow their parents the ground-oriented opportunity to teach them to hunt, forage and avoid neighborhood predators.

It’s a cold cruel world in my backyard, and we haven’t even touched on the fact that I live with two cats. Baby birds and cats are not a harmonious combination. Experts advise keeping cats inside when baby birds are about. Duh. However, anyone who’s owned a cat understands no one really ever owns a cat – or tells any cat what to do.

I could pretend to be perfect and promise you our cats never disturb the robins in the backyard, but in all honesty that would be a bunch of (well) bird crap. Our cats sneak out on occasion, and when they do the adult birds go on super-mega squawk and chirp alert. They swoop and dive-bomb the felines, whose aloof attitude of superiority makes them unaware they are on the receiving end of any sort of avian disrespect.

Speaking of respect, I’ve developed a new sense of it for our fine-feathered friends. It isn’t easy being a bird – in my backyard or anywhere else. Baby chicks must flutter fly through a gauntlet that includes neighborhood cats, genetics, their own siblings and even parents. According to the Audubon Society, only 30 percent of young songbirds survive the first year of life. That’s less than even odds.

Talk about a crapshoot.

Jill Pertler is an award-winning syndicated columnist, playwright and author of “The Do-It-Yourselfer’s Guide to Self-Syndication” You can read more columns at the Slices of Life page on Facebook.

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