National Geographic : 1954 Apr
The National Geographic Magazine confidence. Even with very tame birds, the slightest movement of the hand causes instant alertness. The reader can guess how pleased I was when finally this little nestling hopped into my hand, crouched down in the palm, and went to sleep, her head for the first time tucked into her feathers. Aye, she was indeed a bonnie baby. What else could we name her but Bonnie? About mid-June the nursery was taxed by the addition of three blue jays, three bobo links, three cardinals, two Baltimore orioles, one cowbird, three wood thrushes, and three veeries. None was more than 10 days old. All clamored for food from dawn to dark. And Bonnie, even though she was now nearly six weeks old and able to help herself, still coaxed me to feed her. When she saw me take up the food stick, she opened wide for a tidbit. Then, as I began to feed the other nestlings, a strange thing happened. Bonnie seemed to watch me curiously and immediately became interested. When she saw the food stick dipped into the jar, she flew to my hand expectantly. Yet, when its contents were given to another, she did not appear to be disappointed. Something seemed to be working in that little head. Perhaps it was the inception of parental feeling, which appears to take place so early in the life of some bluebirds. At any rate, this bird only six weeks old accepted the food offered her and, instead of swallowing it herself, hopped down, first to one nestling and then to another, and popped it into the waiting mouth. Now I had an assistant. With so many mouths to feed, I surely needed one. Little Blue Takes a Mate The shyest baby bluebird ever to take up residence in the observatory was Little Blue (page 529). Usually an hour or so of gentle coaxing will overcome the natural reluctance of a bluebird nestling to accept food. It took three days to get Little Blue to open his bill. Even when he accepted me as his foster par ent and gave me his full confidence, he would crouch deep in the nest I had provided or in my hand if another person entered the room. By spring, however, he accepted other peo ple as readily as he did me. At mating time he and Josie were given a large nesting compartment in the summer ob servatory. When the nest box was put in their compartment, the pair became more animated than one unfamiliar with these birds could believe. With excited twitters inter spersed with song from Little Blue, they seemed to talk over the suitability of the box. May we not infer something akin to a lan guage? Birds have more vocal expressions than those we usually hear in the wild. Their kindred react to these notes, and some of them are recognized, too, by other songbirds. For instance, alarm notes uttered by a blue bird are instantly understood and acted upon by all the other species in the observatory. Even Bluebirds Have Their Feuds Outside the nesting compartment, in the center flight enclosure with the other unmated birds, were Josie's two one-year-old sons. I often wondered how the sons knew there were babies in their mother's nest box. (There were five.) They seemed to know this, for both began flying against the wire partition, clinging there and showing every evidence of excitement. This action intensified an enmity of which I had had some hint earlier. Little Blue, I had noticed, often chased the younger of these brothers off a food dish, a perch, or a bath. He seemed to show a decided dislike for him and never allowed him to perch near by. Wholly different was his reaction to the older brother. To him the greatest friendli ness was shown. Little Blue even roosted close beside him. Now I noticed that when the younger brother flew to the wire, Little Blue darted at him viciously. The day after the last of the five chicks had hatched, when I entered the compartment to refill the bath, Little Blue flew over my shoulder and straight at the hated one. I had to separate the two and carry Little Blue back to his home. There is no question of what would have happened had I not interfered. Little Blue had yet to meet his nemesis. This was another Bonnie, a male, unlike the motherly little bird of the same name. Bonnie, Jr., came to me when he was three weeks old. Mrs. Harold Alsdorf rescued him in Wallkill, New York, and she and her hus band drove him 425 miles to safety in my observatory. There is no doubt in my mind that Bonnie missed his first human parent, for a time at least. But he soon attached himself to me quite firmly. Bonnie had to help with everything I did.