Profound Mid-summer Mysteries Abound!

Submitted by Art & Barb Straub.

Slowly and silently Frances the fantastic Ford Focus slithered down the alley, then abruptly halted. Smack dab in front of the blue auto, a slender gray bird popped from the bushes on to the hot tarvia. A slightly confused gray catbird seemed as surprised as Frances as they momentarily sized one another up. Clutched in the sharp beak of the bird was an egg, color unknown for the moment. The gray bird dropped egg, darted back into the dense foliage from which she’d appeared. Curious about egg, the auto’s owner picked it up, only to find…a small turquoise green egg with distinct punctures, yolk still apparent. Another dead egg, yet this time, we assumed who the neighborhood destroyer of songbird egg was. Caught in the act of destroying the evidence was the innocent appearing catbird. Here was a shy ‘singer of songs,’ with murder on her mind. Shock, disappointment, incredulity; a rush was made to the computer to refresh one’s memory as to egg coloration.

To this point, our failing recall was that the hue of a catbird’s egg was a splotchy white. Not so, not so. The innocent charcoal colored bird lays a blue-green egg! She was carrying her OWN egg away from the scene of the crime, hiding the evidence that might give way to a sly squirrel or other mammal of the presence of a nest. First a punctured mourning dove egg, then a chipping sparrow ovoid, now a catbird egg. There is a murderer in the neighborhood, and it’s not a mammal. Problem is, we know who the killer is, but he/she is protected by law, as he/she is a migrating avian species, loved by many, abhorred by others like ourselves.

On to the next mystery. A close friend reported, “Do other birds lay eggs in bluebird nests? I lost my first clutch to I know not what. Second clutch had four eggs and four little ones. Now there’s just one bird who seems too big and not bluebird looking.” 99% of the time the blame can be placed upon the brown-headed cowbird. In a snapshot explanation, the stocky black with brown head cowbird female watches freshly built nests of host birds. Being parasitic creatures, they lay a single egg amid the unsuspecting host’s eggs. The cowbird egg is larger, a speckled ovoid easily observed among the host bird’s eggs. When the large cowbird egg hatches, the newborn eats much of the food from the devoted mother bluebird. (The host nest could belong to one of many other birds, including the tiny chipping sparrow, and even northern oriole nests, plus, according to the research, nests of over 200 species of additional birds.) Eventually the chubby little parasite shoves the eggs of the host bird out of the nest, along with any unfortunate nestlings. (Sorry, this is giving human characteristics to bird behavior….especially bullies.)

Regular readers of the “Indy” will recall the story of how our young Nature Neighbors spotted and captured tiny monarch butterfly larvae the second week of June. Placing the green caterpillars in a special butterfly netted cage, faithful larvae-keepers fed the worms milkweed for the next weeks until they entered their chrysalis stage, the stage of the green tombs. Thursday, July 12th, the tombs burst open, new life pumped fluid into the insects’ wings, they were soon ready for flight. And fly they did. As the marvels crawled, then flew from the netting, they immediately zeroed in on brightly colored flowers or milkweed in the blossom stage. No other plant life attracted them, indicating sight or odor as clues to their favorite nectars. (That’s another mystery to resolve.)

Bruce Bjork was casing the East Henderson State Road this past week, and came upon a flock of turkeys of three or four different sizes. What happens in July is that the turkey poults from three or four nests will gather for protection under the wings of a couple of elder females…safety in numbers. This was a disastrous spring for turkeys, as you recall the horrendous precipitation that struck the sidehills and wooded valley flats, leaving few turkey/pheasant survivors. Thus, now one sees the results of different hatchings, and different sized poults. We are told that a baby turkey remains earth-bound its first five days…easy prey for coyotes, raccoons and snakes. Then they may fly to low branches. Sometimes raccoons/opossums will wipe out entire clutches of eggs before the eggs hatch.
Survival of the fittest at its finest.

A final sad story. A best-friend birder was keeping track of the second hatch of his wood duck house. Quite a bit of scratching occurred from within the abode until a hot Friday’s afternoon last week. The next day, silence. Peeping inside, the friend found four dead perfectly formed ducklings. Mystery: heat, suffocation, deceased parent. Another of those incidents causing one to wonder. Any guesses out there?