Big Birds, Baby Birds, Birds Everywhere
All of nature seems to be in reproductive overdrive or, perhaps more accurately, hyperdrive. Just look around: Baby birds seem to be everywhere. And adult birds are busy all day trying to fill the mouths of their begging fledglings.
The rush for reproduction is bases on a limited amount of time to get the job done. I don’t think it is well understood that most birds only reproduce once per year in the spring. Yes, some of our smaller species of birds will reproduce twice each season, but the point is that they only reproduce in spring. They don’t migrate down south at the end of summer and start reproducing all over again.
Many of our larger species, such as Osprey, Bald Eagle, and the Common Loon, only get one shot at reproduction each season. If something happens to their eggs or babies, then it’s all over until next year. Many of our smaller birds, such as sparrows, wrens, and finches, often nest twice per season, but at the end of summer they are done and don’t reproduce until the next spring.
So these baby birds that we see all around us are very precious to the adult birds. The adults put a lot of effort into the survival of each one of their babies. It all starts with the time and energy it takes to build the nest. Then add the amount of energy in terms of nutrients that the female sacrifices to produce each egg, the crazy amount of time involved in incubating the eggs, and the immense time and effort gathering food and feeding the young.
These are the thoughts that are passing across my mind lately while leading my Common Loon photography tours. About a dozen or more photographers from all over the world come to my headquarters in Minnesota for an opportunity to photograph loons with their babies. In addition, I also explain the finer points of loon biology and behavior while we capture amazing images of loons.
Every year while photographing the loons, I’m completely and totally impressed with the dedication and skill the adult loons display while raising their babies. For example, just the other day we watched and photographed an adult pair of loons capturing tiny minnows, no longer than an inch, to feed their baby. The adult birds are more than 3 feet long from tip of bill to end of tail, yet they manage to catch the tiniest of fish to feed their babies. Some of the fish they catch are so small you can barely see them in the adult’s huge bill.
When the babies are small, they are not very coordinated; when the adults pass the fish to the baby, more times than not, the baby will drop the fish. The parents are right there to grab the minnow again and return it to the baby. This can happen upwards of five times just to get the baby to swallow the fish.
One evening, we watched and photographed two adult loons bring more than 40 tiny fish to their single baby. It took nearly 30 minutes to catch each of these fish and swim back to the waiting chick and pass off the fish meal. I kept thinking to myself, how many fish can this tiny baby loon hold in its stomach? At the end of the feeding session, the baby stopped eating, but this didn’t stop the parents from still offering more fish to the baby.
Eventually, the parents got the message that junior wasn’t hungry anymore. The baby then crawled up on the female’s back and quickly fell asleep. The male slipped off to some deeper water to do some fishing for larger fish for himself while the female did babysitting duties.
If you are interested in joining me on a loon adventure, see my web page for more details. Until next time…
Stan Tekiela is an author, naturalist, and wildlife photographer who travels the United States to study and photograph wildlife. He can be followed on Facebook and Twitter. You can contact Stan via his web page.
Stan’s nationally syndicated NatureSmart Column appears in more than 25 cities spanning 5 states (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, and Pennsylvania) and is circulated to more than 750,000 readers.