Thursday, May 21, 2009

Bird in the Hand

Welcome to Maine's first annual Blog A Bird Rescue Fest! Both our farm and the Castlebay Ceilidh Palace were visited yesterday by bewildered birds. Here's the tale of our own poor wee wanderer:

Perhaps the little blighter followed a fly, one of the few lazily drawing aerial figure-eights in our entryway. Perhaps it was confused by the peep-peep-peep of newly hatched chicks in the upstairs spare room. However it happened, I heard two successive impacts and turned to find a half-stunned nuthatch clinging to the window munton, disturbing the little cloud of ennui and despair that has settled over my seedling trays.

The tomato plants lifted their heads in amazement, as if to say, what, there's a world of life and movement somewhere? (They desperately wanted to be planted outside two weeks ago. When I merely transplanted them into larger containers and returned them inside, they decided to revoke their life-force. I've been trying to tell them it was for their own good, as we're still getting frost warnings, but they don't believe me, even after I dosed them with a hearty splash of fish fertilizer!)

Little Bird clung there for a minute or two, gasping dazedly with open beak. I put on a glove and reached my hand oh-so-slowly in the bird's direction. To my surprise, it didn't flutter or try to get away, but calmly stepped from the window munton right onto my outstretched hand. I walked with it to the open door, but it was still getting its bearings and simply perched on my fingers, blinking back at me. We perched together for a few minutes, there, both marveling at the unusual company we'd come to keep.

It didn't seem right to hold the wee wild one indoors, so--bird still perched calmly on hand--I stepped across the threshold, down the steps, and towards the blooming pear tree in the orchard. Nuthatches aren't known so much for branch-sitting as they are for trunk-hopping, and their preferred habit is to move downwards, headfirst. I stood a few feet from the tree, pondering the best method of transfer, when the bird finally found its bearings, stirred, and flew, alighting on the trunk about seven feet up. It hopped and skittered a bit, testing its feet and watching me with an odd mix of interest and unconcern. Then it flew up into the branches, amidst the faintly fragrant blossoms, and uttered a series of buzzing little notes, as if to say, "Right, then, all's well that ends well, you were. Let us both be moving along." I paused just long enough to document the day, then respectfully departed.

What a lovely, odd visit. It was kind of the nuthatch to endure my assistance with grace--it restored a pleasant light to an otherwise frustrating avian-involvement day. You see, for the last few days, we've had chicken eggs hatching in the incubator, and something went mystifyingly, dreadfully wrong about halfway through the hatch. The first seven birds came through fine. The temperature and humidity seemed right where they ought to be, and several additional eggs were "pipping" or showing signs of activity. The next chick that hatched out seemed to labour a bit too long, and it looked woeful when it finally hatched. It didn't live long enough to join the others in the warm little paper-lined box next to the incubator. After that, the pipping eggs just...stopped. I waited and watched through the little plastic window. Usually they'll rock a bit, peep now and then inside the egg, and then exert themselves in shell-pecking and struggling for a furious second or two before resting up for the next urgent effort. Instead, the eggs--four of which already bore tiny, newly-pecked holes in their shells--gradually stopped rocking, quieted and became still.

I'm still not sure of the culprit--did I not turn them often enough as they were developing? Was there a sudden dip in temperature in the middle of the night, perhaps, or did the humidity drop below the preferred level? Well, there's nothing left to do but clean out the defunct eggs, scrub the incubator down, and try again--maybe with a fancy digital thermometer/hygrometer this time around.

At least we have seven beautiful chicks to show for our efforts. Only one is clearly a hen (they have darker coloring than the Golden Comet males, even as chicks), so it looks like most of these are destined to become Sunday Suppers: plump little roasters lads who will live out their short but happy lives in an outdoor pen in the front yard. I wish I'd had more hens, as there are customers waiting. I'll have to call them and let them know they'll have three more weeks to wait. Now, I'd best be bustling off to the barn to collect today's eggs and start all over again!

To show you how well-suited our new hatchlings are to this Celtic Homestead, I've posted a video taken during the hatching. It's a bit long and rather blurry, like most birthings, but you can clearly see the egg rocking in time to the bagpipe recording that was playing downstairs!

1 comment:

Mama Pea said...

You've certainly had your share of the bird adventures recently! I know it's not the right thing to do but when you see those little chickies working so hard to get out of their shells, don't ya just wanna get in there and give them a little help?

When Roy taught school, each year he would hatch out a batch of duck eggs and a batch of chicken eggs in his 3rd grade classroom. On "hatching day" word spread like wildfire through the school and there would be a steady stream of janitors, teachers, kids, cooks, administrators, parents in and out of his room all day. Something about the miracle of birth and life.

Good luck on your next hatch!