Fledgling blackbird so in tune with our teenagers

16:43, Nov 09 2012
HUNTER AND GATHERER: A male blackbird in his endless pursuit of food for his youngsters.
HUNTER AND GATHERER: A male blackbird in his endless pursuit of food for his youngsters.

He sat up on the neighbour's fence as brash and loud and obvious as any silly little twit teenager, yelling for his mother to being him food.

Occasionally he would swing around, searching the ground and the air for one or other parent bird, the while ever more loudly chittering and shouting for someone to come and shove tucker down his throat.

He was so obvious, so uncouth - standing there, splay-legged, gangly, a complete gawk, with mouth gaping open as he sent out more and yet more strident demands. And he looked so daft.

His tail feathers hadn't yet grown properly, and his butt was a scraggly mess of bum fluff and forlorn promise, a bit as though his jeans were at half-mast and his grubby garish-coloured boxer shorts were prominently on display. He waddled too, looking just like those unfortunate kids who appear to have had a sudden bowel evacuation a long way from the nearest toilet.

The oafish bellows and demands for food and attention continued for maybe 10 minutes, the lout twisting and turning on his perch which, perhaps, some instinct had told him was far enough off the ground to keep him away from most predators.

Then his father suddenly appeared on the railing beside him. Dad, severe in black suit, polished orange beak, clean lines and haughty gaze, said nothing. The look of extraordinary disgust - perhaps mixed with a little "Gawd, what have I created here?" - lasted all of three seconds before old man blackbird bailed out, hurling himself in anger, or maybe anguish, up and over our roof. He flew with the perfect, flicking precision that birds which live in confined spaces use, wings and tail flaring at exactly the right moment to negotiate walls, branches, fences, hedges, or rooftops. Such birds are always a delight to watch.


The lout's look said it all: "Whaddya mean, there's no tucker? I need it! Now!"

The kid spun round, outraged, as pop flicked off and out of view. The screeches of "Gimme, gimme" withered quickly as the young teen took in one of the first tough lessons of the wild - if you want it, go get it yourself.

Within a few minutes he fell into sullen silence, stumped up and down his claimed metre of fencetop, and then collapsed into a huddled, miserable little heap of perched feathers.

Maybe it had dawned on him that he had literally been kicked out of the nest, and if he wanted to impress the chicks by appearing in a smart three-piece like his daddy wore, then he had better do something about it and not wait for some other dudes to race off with all the birds . . . as it were.

Whatever it was, young Blunt-Butt decided to spread his wings. Isn't it wonderful how suddenly the entire language begins to take meaning and shape, just looking out your front window?

It would be unkind to suggest that this might have been his maiden flight, but whatever, the youngster suddenly launched himself off the neighbour's rail, a good two metres above our lawn.

He plummeted ignominiously as his stumpy wings flailed, then the pinions spread properly and he gained both momentum and height.

Precariously he lurched up on to our roof, narrowly missing decapitating himself on the gutter edge, and landed with an audible thump on the unforgiving tiles.

There was silence for several seconds, probably while he regained his breath from being severely winded after not realising it was useful to put down his undercarriage when landing.

A few somewhat strangled squawks announced the young gentleman's arrival, and they were followed shortly thereafter by a burst of pathetically self-opinionated raucousness.

None of it, apparently, resulted in the heavens opening and a wide conveyor belt full of worms, bugs, spiders and tasty titbits pouring themselves down his gormless gullet.

It took him several minutes to get a handle on this injustice, but, to give him credit, the kid was obviously a fast learner.

In spite of the very unpleasant contents of the nether regions of his jeans - or whatever it was he was wearing - he somehow managed to swagger up and over the roof apex, and with as much sang-froid as any cool teenager can muster, he sauntered down to the opposite gutter.

Then, with a jaunty squelch of strangled sound he launched himself at the copper beech, a mere few metres away.

It was as well for him that the tree, pruned a little last winter, was not yet in full leaf, and therefore afforded him a good variety of new twigs and branchlets, among which he suddenly found himself scrabbling in a mad panic to find a foothold.

Had the tree been heavy in leaf, he would probably have slid off as though he had landed on a steep glacier face.

His frantic clutchings finally succeeded, and he wobbled to a precarious perch, nervously swaying and bobbing as the thin branch stabilised itself with his weight.

Now he was almost invisible among the dark young leaves, but he kept giving himself away with his incessantly harsh chirping calls, in the apparently endless demand for food and attention from his parents.

It seems he was, at least partially, successful, almost certainly because he had now got himself into a place where he was high up off the ground, out of the way of predators and the public generally, and where both he and his parents would be relatively safe from attack or interference.

Suddenly there was full-on support from mum and dad birds. They both appeared, chit-chit-chitting soft encouragement to the youngster, mother-bird with a beakful of dangling, still-writhing worms, and father-bird sleek and masterful and full of bonhomie towards the youngster.

Finally, the lad got the message - do as the oldies do and the world and all its good things will unfold before your very eyes. The parent birds skipped out of the copper beech and into the dense, all-embracing foliage of an adjacent lawsoniana. Within seconds the youngster joined them.

They all totally disappeared - lawsons are thick and heavy on the outside and provide lots of dark, small, open spaces inside, close to the trunk, the ideal places for parents birds to feed and overnight exuberant youngsters. Contrary to most teenagers, darkness tends to make young birds shut up and sit still.

Fifty metres away, State Highway 3 hurled its contents past our home. Most of those in the speeding vehicles had little or no thought for the vigorous intensity of life happening just beyond their windscreens.

Across the little neighbouring lawns in front of us, Mr and Mrs Thrush, a small flock of sparrows, several scurvy mynahs, two different pairs of gold finches, and a motley mob of starlings all fossicked and prodded and jabbed for food for themselves and for clamouring youngsters.

So did an anxious blackbird couple, intent on keeping at least this one youngster alive for the next few weeks, until he had absorbed enough intelligence and worldliness to look after himself.

I hope so, because if that boy is smart enough to get through the summer, autumn and winter, he may well be perched, resplendent in gleaming three-piece black suit, singing from the high point on the elm tree 20 metres from my dining table window next spring.

That would be rather nice.

To contact Kingsley Field, email kingsley@accuwrite.co.nz.

Waikato Times