In search of ponies: Growing up for the birds

So they just topple over the edge and then they’re gone, sailing into the sunset to go forth and do their thing, right?


Sure it happens that way sometimes.

And then sometimes they wander too close to the edge and fall out before they’re ready or they jump out and then hang around.

But perhaps the biggest myth perpetuated with the whole thing is that once the fledgling is no longer snuggled in the nest, the parents move on to other things.

Not so…

I saw this for myself recently.

Wandering around my yard, I came across a small dove perched on a pile of branches trimmed from a nearby tree, which incidentally houses a pair of doves.

It was fairly well developed, but the slightly frayed ends of its soft feathers marked it easily as a youngin’.

It hunkered down and was obviously afraid, but didn’t flutter off or try to escape my attention as I inspected to make sure it wasn’t injured.

Recognizing it was at an age where it might be able to get by, I decided to let it be.

It was still there later that day, and the next morning as well, still alive and alert, but not flying away.

Concerned, I began watching more often and it wasn’t long before another dove flew in, paused for a second, then flew off.

The pattern was repeated and I realized the youngster’s parents were tending to it and still feeding it, even though it was far from the nest.

I have seen bird parents stand by as their featherless young that don’t have a chance of survival draw their last breaths on the ground after a fall and I have seen young birds that are a little surprised by their “first fall” quickly gain their bearings and take to the air.

But as I watched the dove pair swoop in and feed their young one for several days, even after it made its way from the brush pile to a fence, I was struck by their continued devotion.

Much to do has been made about the leaving the nest moment, particularly among us humans.

However what the doves showed was the fact that even in the animal world, an empty nest doesn’t mean the work is over.

Of course us humans know that and if we don’t, we find out with the first phone call from college, whether it’s the call to say, “You have to have quarters to do laundry here, can I bring it at home? I have NO clean underwear…” or the call to ask for money, or for better food.

Oh yeah, they flew, or dropped or coasted a little ways away, but all that empty nest really means is you have to go a little further to make sure they eat and clean their feathers.

After a couple of days, I checked the fence and the little fellow was gone — in a good way I assume since there was no corresponding pile of feathers near his spot.

Looking up, I saw the nest was vacant too, and therein lies the difference between birds and humans.

You see, if that had been a human child in today’s world, it would have likely managed to flap back up to the nest, weighed down with student loans and maybe even a young one of its own or two.

But no, birds aren’t like that.

They might accept lunch on the fence for a while, but when the flyin’s good, so’s the gettin.’

Then again, maybe that’s because the birds are a more advanced species that have somehow figured out that if the nest is empty, truly empty, the young ones won’t bother trying to come back, as opposed to us humans that sit in the emptiness.

Nah, I bet somewhere in the air over Clovis there’s a pair of doves looking for the turn off for Hawaii and acting like they don’t know the smaller version of themselves trailing behind them chirping, “Mom? Dad? Are we going to a new nest?”