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It’s in your nature: Cruel?

Some nature happenings can appear so cruel. When that happens, some of us feel we need to be involved or have more control over the outcome. But think about it. Long before man became the dominant earthly creature, nature just ran its course without our interference. Cases in point:

In February of 1980, after building our home in East Penn Township, I discovered our elderly neighbors have been “hosting” a bluebird pair in their yard for a few years. So before we even had a lawn established, I built and mounted three bluebird boxes. With hinged roofs for easy clean out, I also could occasionally check on a nest progress. By the first week of April, a bluebird pair was “using” one of them.

That nest held five eggs, they hatched, were fed almost constantly, and eventually the young were ready to fledge. Plaintive calls from the parents urged their first flight and the first four flew weakly to some trees close by. Number five finally ventured out but fluttered to the ground near the nest. Within a minute, a Cooper’s hawk was upon it.

“-amn that hawk” was my first thought. But I soon remembered my biology background and realized that “coop” had young in its nest to feed, too. “My” bluebird pair had nine young that summer. I know certainly one died quickly, but I would bet that only three or maybe four of those ever made it to the following spring. This is why altricial birds (robins, bluebirds) have two nests and seven, eight or nine young each year. Precocial birds (grouse, ducks, turkeys) have one nest with eight, 10 or more eggs. These precocial youngsters, flightless and lightly feathered, face predators and the elements as soon as they leave the nest.

At what may be my favorite nature snooping area, I discovered a wood duck hen with nine ducklings. A week later at that location, only six cute ducklings scurried across the lily pad covered backwater. Maybe one of the minks, whose tracks I’ve seen in the mud, a hawk, or probably one of the snapping turtles had easy meals.

A few weeks ago in this same area I watched a red-eyed vireo slip into her neatly constructed nest. I try to avoid too much contact but I watched her on two different trips I made there in the next week and a half. I thought this nest would be easy to photograph from a safe distance away when the young had hatched. Egad, on my last trip there with camera in hand, I was shocked to see only one huge chick in the nest begging for food. I now felt that same feeling a did more than 40 years ago when “my bluebird” was caught. The poor red-eyed vireo mom just spent weeks incubating a cowbird egg.

The cowbirds, as you know, lay their egg in another’s nest and the new “foster” parent raises it. Usually, and probably in this nest too, the cowbird threw out the vireo eggs and the red-eyed vireo’s tremendous parental care instinct kept her devoted to that one egg. Cruel, I guess in some respects. We can only hope that the three or four other vireos nesting nearby had much better success.

I’m sure each of you has witnessed these natural events in your outdoor travels. Let’s do one thing though, work hard at protecting wild areas so all these creatures, predators and prey, can continue to flourish … Enjoy!

Test Your Outdoor Knowledge: Polypropylene is the least recycled plastic and ___ tons are produced globally each year. A. 120 billion, B. 60 billion, C. 120 million, D. 20 million.

Last Week’s Trivia Answer: The common merganser, belted kingfisher and loon all eat smaller fish than the osprey.

Contact Barry Reed at breed71@gmail.com.

Fledgling bluebirds like this one, are especially vulnerable to predators, and since often not fully feathered, summer downpours as well. BARRY REED/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
The bluebird box in my yard saw four fledge, if lucky, two of these juveniles may survive to find their own territories next spring.
Left: Precocial birds like a ruffed grouse or turkey lay many eggs at one time. This ruffed grouse nest full of eggs must survive raccoons, black rat snakes, or even opossums. Even after they hatch maybe only 2 or 3 will make it through their first winter.
Above: Winters can be cruel to wild turkeys. Deep snow makes it hard to scratch for food and ice storms can coat food or form crusty surfaces, making survival very tough. BARRY REED/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
This snapping turtle struggled 80 feet up a steep bank, took two or three hours to lay its couple dozen eggs, and “cruelly” raccoons found the eggs about two weeks later. Fortunately, other turtles laid enough undiscovered eggs to replenish the population.
This red-eyed vireo worked tirelessly with spider webs and grasses to construct the nest, warm the eggs, a process for well over a month, HOWEVER ...
... A cowbird slipped in, laid her egg, disposed of the vireo's egg and now the vireo pair are feeding a large and hungry substitute. Is it cruel or is it just nature?
The wood duck's original nine duckling brood is now down to six. Nature's predators have fed on the wood duck's young to probably feed their offspring.
Beltzville Lake's productivity allows some of its pumpkinseed sunfish to be caught by belted kingfishers (in photo) or by loons or us. Cruel?
A baby wood duck, young rabbit, or maybe dozens of rats and mice are caught to keep the great horned owl and its owlet fed? Cruel??
A robin lays three, four or five eggs, twice each summer. Nature will “weed out” some of those young. Probably three or four will be back the following spring to start their own nests.
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