Feeding chickens is no small feat. Bird parents often look shabby after the breeding season: Gray, with protruding tufts and bare spots. No wonder if you know, for example, that a great tit flies up and down your nest box about four hundred times a day and squeezes through that entrance hole with a caterpillar. The more boys, the more often. They do this for at least eighteen days, and then they continue to feed until a week or two after the young fly. Often another litter follows closely behind.
The angelic patience of mother gunpowder
Mother owl must also endure, for she must feed her young in a special way. She beheads the mouse and even eats her head and other hard parts. She gives the soft parts, such as the intestines and small pieces of meat, to the pups. This can be clearly seen in this video from Beleefdelente from 2019. Such feeding lasts no less than an hour during the first few days! And to think that she often has four to seven cubs. Incidentally, they are of different ages, so not all are equally troublesome.
The male does not even have time to be so patient, so he hunts but does not eat. Only in the third week are the pups able to completely swallow small prey such as. spitsmus.
Cormorants are fish eaters and do things differently. They stay a little further away and swallow as many fish as possible. Then they fly back to the nest – just to be attacked by their hungry chicks – and break up the food for them. The harder it is to catch fish, the longer fish-eating birds stay away. Albatrosses take the cake: they sometimes fly up to two thousand miles and stay away from the breeding colony for up to ten days.
To eat the feces of your offspring
Parent birds want to raise as many young as possible as healthy as possible. Enough food is essential, but so is hygiene. Pathogens live in the feces of chicks that remain in the nest for days or even weeks. In addition, the stench puts predators on the trail of the dish filled with tasty snacks. So get rid of that dirt.
This is the reason why almost all chicks that stay in the nest the first part of their lives get feces in a kind of bag made of a solid white or transparent membrane. Dad or mom only needs to throw that bag overboard to keep the nest clean. You can see it with your own eyes with the blue breasts from Experience Spring.
Sometimes they even eat the stool bag. It’s a little too hygienic, you might think, but it’s also smart, because it often still contains good nutrients. They do the same with the eggshells, throw them out of the nest or eat them, for exactly the same reason.
This year’s terrorist mother
In addition to this passive form of nest defense, some birds also defend their nests quite actively. The bigger the bird, the more impressive it makes. With swans, you have probably experienced it yourself when you unsuspectingly come near a nest. They protect their offspring by hissing and fluttering or even flapping their wings. That swan mother is convinced that you want to eat her children, so blame her.
Other birds attack from the air and try to defecate on their heads, or peck or scratch if you (or a nearby predator) get near their nest. Think, for example, of all the news items about ‘terrorist mouse guards’ attacking cyclists. ‘Mother of the Year’ would be a better name, although the victims probably experience it differently.
Pretend you’re hurt
Those who are not strong must be wise, and the vibe takes that proverb. The bird is not as powerful as a swan or mouse buzzard, it pretends to be injured and strikes its hanging wing away from the nest. He then appears to be an easy prey, thus luring predators away such as foxes, shellfish and birds of prey. If the robber comes close, a miraculous healing follows. He is also not afraid to attack if necessary.
Wear it or let it hit a ride
The woodcock does everything. Eggs and chicks are camouflaged, she takes her little ones out of the nest with her beak (away from the smells), chops attackers and pretends to be hurt to lure them away. And if all that does not work, she has a captivating trump card up her sleeve: she carries her cubs flying, between and on her legs.
By the way, piggybacking happens more often, but usually on the back of dad or mom. You can see this powerful example of parental love in whooper swans or patch divers in a canal, park or ditch.
Text: Jeanet van Zoelen, Bird Protection Netherlands
Photos: Jelle de Jong; Gerg van der Hee; shutters; Hans Peeters; Arnold van Kreveld