I think we have teenagers in the house. You can recognise the signs. Teenagers come in various distinctive forms but teenagers they are. There are the ones who pull their hair across their faces, who skulk in the corners and deep recesses of life and who are awkward in their shyness. That’s Rocky. Dependent but slightly aloof, shying away from contact, choosing quiet hiding places. Another type of teenager is food motivated, comfort eating or just powering their growth rate. That’s Birdie. Yet another is always in your face, wanting something, wanting you to do something, incessant in their claims. That’s both Birdie and Sneaky. Others are slightly clumsy, not quite keeping up with their peers in growth and maturity, unsure of who they should be hanging with and how they should present themselves. That’s Feisty. Teenagers keep their own hours, contact is definitely only their terms.
They’ve grown so much even if it’s not readily apparent from their size. 2 g is hardly anything; bakers wouldn’t quibble about that difference. But they have filled out; when they first arrived they were still that naked, foetal baby bird under the early feathers. There’s something grotesque about that baby bird look. Vulnerable and not yet ready for the world. Then there’s all the clever stuff that they’ve learnt to do in just a week: the big four are flying with various levels of confidence (a skill that I much admire) and self-feeding. In just a week. So very different from human children!
But the issues are curiously similar. I don’t envy parents of multiples, with one you can focus and give them your undivided attention and energy. With more than one it’s just about trying to balance all the constant demands that they put on you. It’s easier to form a relationship one-to-one, the little quirks are endearing. But remembering the preferences of five is just too big a challenge. You have to average yourself out, average out the demands, there’s less catering to the individual. I guess it doesn’t matter so much when your brood is blue tits but I imagine that for parents of human multiples that raises a lot of issues and questions.
It was nice to have Manky on his own for a bit, less demanding, especially now that the others are so independent. They’re self-feeding and out all day and night now. Our sitting room has become one giant aviary with that very distinctive aviary smell. A little bit like pet shop but not so overwhelming, drier somehow too. We could give him his feeds easier and just spend some time with him, laughing at his open-mouthed greediness and admiring his growing strength.
He is a lot stronger today. We’re trying to get him back on solids as he only had baby food yesterday. It’s his favourite as well as being a lot easier to get down. But it’s not good for him to have just that, for starters it makes their poop incredibly runny. Not good. He spent most of morning wandering up and down the bed, demanding his feed at regular intervals and with noisy insistence. I sat in there with the laptop for a while to keep him company and he joined me at the keyboard (three at the same time on the keyboard is irritatingly challenging) then when he tried to filch my lunch then we decided he was definitely on the mend. He’s making bigger and stronger jumps with flaps too, he launched himself off a bookshelf this afternoon, still a definite fall but calculated.
He was returned to the sitting room and his siblings this afternoon. Sometimes when he was being very noisy in the bedroom, the four in the sitting room would go quiet and listen. When we walked him up to the sitting room door, it was his turn to go quiet and listen. We were worried that he would be overwhelmed by them; they’re so much more developed than him now. But they welcomed him back by telling him that he was a right mess and that he needed to do some preening.
Preening is an important part of learning to fly. And of keeping their feathers in tip-top flying condition.
This evening we had watermelon so we decided to share some with the babies, not that they are ‘babies’ really anymore! They loved it. If you have watermelon this summer and scorching weather, maybe think to share it with your garden birds. It’s so quenching. Hydration is important for everyone (even this human camel needs some water every now and then). Even if it’s just the rinds, they love pecking at those. Birdie of course was straight in there. But Manky had his own wee piece too. Well almost the size of him which is nothing compared to a full size of course! He picks it up in his mouth, shakes it, drops it and then screams at it. How this helps we’re not sure. But he’s been doing it for hours.
We’ve pretty much weaned the biggest four off hand feeding. Birdie nearly capsized into the jar of mealworms trying to fish one out when I tried hand feeding Manky. He caught one but then was relocated for his own safety and my patience. Sneaky had a pretty good go at catching his own spider this morning, a small one but I was surprised at how that instinct just kicked in. We’re putting the mealworms into the flowerpots so they learn to look for their own food. I have a funny feeling that Birdie is getting the majority of them. I think instinct will teach them an awful lot though.
Anyway, back a bit I mentioned the issues that parenting brings. As they’re teenagers now you start to wonder what will happen to them in the future, the issues that they face and whether they will be safe. The statistics are pretty grim (you can find them on one of those blue tit link pages). It’s good that they make it as an egg; it’s good that they make it as a nestling; it’s good that they make it as a fledging; it’s good that they make their first year. It’s good but not guaranteed. Or even perhaps likely. That’s heart-breaking when you’re a human caught up in their story. Like I said yesterday, we want happy endings even if we know that it isn’t always possible, or probable.
When they fly the nest, which they must do and really is the whole purpose of this exercise, that is the measure of our success or not, they face a very, very big world out there. A world with all sorts of dangers, there are cats and dogs, other bad birds, stupid humans, roads and cars and all sorts of risks. And that is reality. It’d be lovely that they make it and go on to have their own families next year but nature’s reality is that it is something of a miracle that they’ve come so far already. Maybe that has to be enough sometimes.
And talking of feelings, I wonder how their real parents feel about their disappearance. Do they understand loss? Perhaps. The way that they feel and understand may be different from our own but I think that they do have emotive reactions, even such small creatures as blue tits. We’re pretty sure that the nest is empty now, there is no sound. We’re seeing less of the parents too. I don’t know whether they stay with the nest throughout the year or go and live somewhere else once the babies are gone. Ornithology has never been my strong point. How do they feel about their empty nest? Perhaps to them this year’s nest has been a failure, they have lost all their babies. They do not know where they are. That’s sad. But it inspires me to make a success of these babies, theirs, on their behalf.
For a limited time, you can watch a live blue tit nest webcam from the BBC Springwatch page. When I wrote this, they were dreaming just like ours do!