Monday, July 6, 2020

The Next Generations

By Beth Sullivan
With this extra time on our hands, I sure hope everyone is paying attention to what’s happening outside the windows, in the yards, in the woods. The season has changed from spring to summer and this is truly the time of new life. Plants, of course, burst into view during spring months, but the birds and mammals have taken a bit longer to get settled and start their families. Now it seems, everywhere we turn, there are youngsters out and about testing their wings, or legs, and bringing a smile to all who witness this wonderful stage of life. The next generation has arrived.
I seem to spend a lot of time at my kitchen sink, so I am glad for the distraction of the dogwood tree and its birdfeeders. We have left our suet up this year, longer than usual, because of the parade of young birds taking turns trying to figure it out. The young downy woodpeckers mastered it quickly, but they have little tolerance for siblings or other uninvited guests. The catbird parents have been carrying suet back to their nestlings, and now they too are attempting to get to at it themselves. They are less graceful than the woodpeckers. These birds are fully feathered and pretty independent now, but it has taken a while. Most birds are pretty helpless, and featherless, for a couple of weeks before they venture out on their own. They sit tight in the nest while their parents deliver the food. In the case of Purple Martins and other Swallows, the adult birds can be observed swooping over open meadows capturing food on the wing. It has been a banner year so far, for dragonflies. Great for the birds, not so good for the dragonflies.
Shore birds and waterfowl, on the other hand, are pretty much ready to run, or swim, the day they hatch. Most nest on the ground and are very vulnerable to predation or injury. They will not be able to fly for a while so they rely on other means of protecting themselves. The most important thing is their coloration, excellent camouflage in their habitat. The little shorebirds have legs that are like those of a kid with a growth spurt: long and gangly with big feet.
The water birds don’t look quite so awkward and are capable of darting quickly toward water and swimming to keep up with the rest. If you are lucky enough to be able to observe one of these species, be patient; watch for a while and you will be entertained by some truly funny antics as the birds learn how to search for food and try to preen.
A wide open beak at the door greets the adult tree swallows. Photograph by Rick Newton.

Day old purple martin hatchlings are totally helpless 

Those long legs really work! Photograph by Rick Newton.

These ducklings can swim and search for food within a day or two of hatching.

Young American Oystercatchers blend into their surroundings for protection. Photograph by Rick Newton.

Young mammals are even more fun

At the same kitchen window I have watched young squirrels do very awkward things as they try and figure out the best way into a squirrel-proof feeder. After a few embarrassing falls, the little ones just pop up from the bushes where they fell, look around as if to see if anyone witnessed their mistakes, and then try it again. They seem to be quite agile as soon as they emerge from the nest. Raccoons are the most inquisitive. Being able to witness the sibling relationships in a family of young raccoons makes it easier to see how they can figure out how to get into a locked, secured, tied-down metal can of birdseed. They plot together. Some of the most endearing youngsters I have seen are the young foxes. This year a number of people have reported dens very close to their homes. How lucky! It is thought that the adults choose to live closer to humans to protect themselves from the larger coyotes that would be dangerous to their young. They really are like a cross between a puppy and a kitten, in their appearance and their antics. Litters of animals have the benefit of learning by playing with one another, like kids in school.
Deer usually have a single fawn, or occasionally twins. Shortly after birth they are able to walk awkwardly and are very obedient when advised by the doe to stay put and bed down in the grass while she goes off to feed. It seems that only when mom is around, and deems it safe, that they will cavort and run.
A raccoon family can get into a lot of mischief. 

Fox kits offer the best entertainment.  Photograph by S. Sorensen

Summer is a good time to be a child

It is time to explore, to grow, and to learn. It is time to get legs underneath and wings strengthened to fly. Human children need their parents longer and learn life lessons over many years. Take this summer time, with your child or any child in your circle, and get out to teach them the wonders that we can experience now. Make this time count. Stretch their minds and their hearts with love and learning of nature. Take a lot of photos of the small things they see, so they can remember the stories and experiences this winter when we may be closed back in. Gather treasures in a special box to help them remember being young in the summer. It is good for the adult soul, too.
Take time this summer to explore and teach the young ones in your life.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan unless otherwise indicated.

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