Last Sunday, these two Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula) youngsters got their first view of the big, wide world. They were hatched in the pouch-like nest that their parents had built high in the outermost branches of a tree near the river. A dead branch allowed a pretty clear view of the high nest for we who are earthbound. One chick has moved out onto a branch, while a second is sitting at the edge of the nest. Orioles usually produce a clutch of 4 or 5 eggs, so another chick or two may still be in the nest, or perhaps have already set out.
Like most songbirds, oriole chicks have closed eyes and are hairless when they hatch. Such hatchlings are termed altricial. However, in one of nature’s many miracles, the chicks grow to close to the size of their parents and are fully feathered , ready to leave the nest and fly, in just 12 to 14 days! The parents will continue to feed the youngsters insects for a few days until they master flight and learn to find their own food. In the photo above, you can see the fledgling begging, whirring its wings and chirring to the parent, waiting to be fed.
Many songbirds raise two, or sometimes even 3 broods, or families, each summer and parents must work very hard to provide for their young. Sadly, many songbirds live short lives and die tragic deaths. These youngsters will have to contend with widespread habitat loss, pesticide poisoning, cats, windows, lights, towers, and other disasters-in-waiting ready to take their toll. These challenges are causing a slow but steady decline in songbird populations across the continent. In the last 3 to 4 decades, the songbird population has fallen by a horrifying 20 to 30%. How long will it be before, as Rachel Carson forecast, we face a silent spring? An excellent source of more information is Bridget Stutchbury’s book, Silence of the Songbirds, which I reviewed here. Some ways that you can help to protect songbirds are listed here:
How To Save A Songbird
Buy shade-grown coffee that is both organic and fairly-traded.
Buy organic produce
Avoid non-organic North American crops such as alfalfa, Brussel sprouts,blueberries, celery, corn, cotton, cranberries, potatoes and wheat.
Buy unbleached, recycled paper products
Turn off the lights at night in city buildings and homes during peak migration periods
Keep your cat indoors