Happy Bird Father’s Day (Miracle, all of it)

bird-father-feed-nature

Excerpts from Jennifer Ackerman‘s: Why Bird Fathers Are Superior:

They are attentive parents, building nests, feeding chicks and even showing their young how to sing.

Tally up the good dads and the bad dads in the animal world, and mammals come up surprisingly short. Males provide direct care of their young in less than 5% of mammal species. Some mammals, like grizzly bears, are notoriously bad dads, known to kill their own cubs…most mammal fathers are deadbeats with a “love ’em and leave ’em” approach, sticking around only to mate.

Then there are birds. For our avian friends, attentive care of the young by both males and females is the norm. True, females shoulder the full parenting load in a few avian families, such as hummingbirds. But in some 90% of bird species, the males stay around to help: They share the duties of nest-building, incubate eggs, feed brooding females and the chicks, even train their young for independent life. Birds, in short, have a system of parenting not unlike our own, despite being separated from us by some 300 million years of evolutionary history…

How could creatures whose brains are so much smaller than ours and so different from them possibly be clever? …In the past two decades or so, we’ve learned that some species of birds have relatively large brains for their body size, just as we do…Birds teach. They learn. They solve problems. They make tools. They count. They remember where they put things. They deceive and cheat. They argue and console.

And they parent—most often together, with an equitable division of labor between nest and “office.” Many birds share incubation duties. Male and female double-crested cormorants swap that role about once an hour, so that the stay-at-home parent gets a chance to forage for itself. Woodpeckers relieve one another during the day, but the male alone incubates at night.

Some male birds go to extraordinary lengths not just to find food for their young but to participate in the actual feeding. The anhinga, or snakebird, which is found in the southern swamplands of the Americas, puts his whole mouth and neck into it, creating a kind of feeding tube to efficiently deliver partially digested fish down the throats of his young. (The chicks are soon shoving their heads down their dad’s beak to speed up the process.)

The Namaqua sandgrouse, which lives in the driest regions of southern Africa, acts as a living flask for his brood: A male bird flies up to 20 miles to find a watering hole in which to soak his belly feathers, absorbing a few tablespoons of water—then flies back to his chicks to let them drink from his feathers…

Some modern feathered fathers even fall into the category of heroic single dads. Take the male cassowary of New Guinea and Australia, a large, glossy black, flightless species that sits alone on the nest for some 50 days, not eating and barely drinking until his chicks hatch. Or consider the wattled jacana of South America, a wading bird that practically walks on water. Another Mr. Mom of the bird world, it builds a nest from floating plants and keeps the eggs warm not by sitting on them but by tucking them under each wing. If the nest starts to sink or the chicks are threatened, the bird may ferry them under his wings to a new site.

Perhaps the most impressive bit of bird fathering is the way that many male birds model behavior for their young, especially when it comes to birdsong…

Very young songbirds have a period of vocalizing called subsong, just like human baby babble. They have speech defects just as we do. (They stutter, for instance.) Like humans, they have windows of time in which the brain is most easily wired.

And like us, they depend on their parents to help them master vocal skills. If a young bird lacks a father or other male tutor in his early days of song-learning, his performance suffers. He sings a stunted, often unrecognizable rendition of the jewel-like song of his species. But if he has an accomplished male model, his singing talents soar.

Like a human dad happily reading to a child, a skilled male bird will model fine singing for his offspring. The baby bird sits silently, soaking up the sounds just as a human baby does. As his father sings, the young bird begins to memorize. Soon he starts to imitate his father, to practice his own faulty peeps and trills like a babbling baby. Then, after something like two million notes of trial and error, he arrives at a strikingly true version of dad’s song.

This sparkling birdsong, like human language, will help him to establish a home, find a partner and secure his place in the flock and family life. And when he himself is finally a father, he will faithfully pass it along to his own brood of young ones.


Notes:

Comments

  1. Reblogged this on Bright, shiny objects! and commented:
    Great post about a good article…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Happy dad’s day, Dave…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I didn’t know about the subsong period. Now I know what the story is with that baby Robin and it’s crooked song every day at 3 am, nonstop, til the sun comes up.

    Happy Father’s Day, David 🙂
    You are a Bird Father very blessed to be sharing the parenting journey with One Great Mother.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. the birds have it. happy father’s day –

    Liked by 1 person

  5. freddiegeorgia says:

    How delightful!!! My dad died when I was two. Maybe that’s why I can’t sing worth a shit?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Anonymous says:

    Perhaps this is why you have such a strong bond with your birds? Both great fathers! Happy Father’s Day.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Hope you have a great day!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Happy Father’s Day, David!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Reblogged this on Gr8fullsoul.

    Like

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