Washington Evening Journal
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Neighbors Growing Together | Nov 21, 2014

Survival of the young and tasty

By Pamela Holz | May 03, 2012

A sliver of blue catches my eye. Ah, a robin’s egg. Flipping it over, I see the inside, white and clean. The egg hatched. Somewhere nearby is a nest full of hatchlings.

Like many other birds, robins remove the eggshells from their nests, taking them away from whatever tree they are using. The necessity of removing the shells, I think, goes without saying; it’s a matter of taking out the garbage. However, unlike us, they don’t just put the garbage on the curb, so to speak.

Animals, in general, are as smart as they need to be to survive. In other words, when it comes to finding dinner, they often need to put two and two together – e.g. that rabbit smell must mean a nearby rabbit, in that particular direction. (On the other hand, the rabbit’s thought process for food-finding is more basic: hop, look – food. Hop, look – food.)

So, if a predator begins to nose around a tree and find a bunch of eggshells, they’re going to think, hmm, helpless, easy to catch baby birds up this tree. Mom and Dad Bird have understandable objections to this process, so they confuse potential predators by taking the shells and scattering them elsewhere. This strategy gives the youngsters a better chance at survival, and when it comes right down to the bottom line, the whole point is survival as a species.

For most of us most of the time, our food-finding thought process is more akin to the rabbit’s than the predator (drive, look – grocery store). Thus, we often miss or misunderstand the attempts of predators and the strategies parent animals have to deter them (baby animals being such easy prey, some predators time teaching-their-young-to-hunt stage during the season with the most prey young).

“Orphaned” deer and rabbits are common examples. A well-meaning hiker spots a lone fawn and seeing no doe for quite some time, assumes the poor thing’s abandoned and takes it home. Putting aside the illegality of taking care of wild animals, this kind hearted person has also taken the young away from its mother.

Fawns, rabbit kits, and similar animals may only see their mother a couple of times a day when they’re newborns. By staying away, the mother keeps attention away – as well as her scent - from her babies’ hiding place. And most of the time, Mom will be too scared to check on her little ones while humans are about. There’s a good chance that the hiker was being watched the entire time and never knew it. Because they need to in order to survive, many animals’ observation skills top most humans’.

One raising offspring strategy which puzzles me is when some fledglings leave the nest before they, well, fledged. I run into robins doing this most often. Right before they can fly, baby robins seem to hop around a lot, peeping. Even if you find their nest and put the baby back in to be safe, it will hop right back out.

Now, perhaps the nest is now too small for the now adult-sized Junior. And just perhaps, it hopping around actually makes it harder for predators to catch him than if confined to a nest (moving target theory). And plus, hopping around builds muscle for when it can fly.

However, I can’t help thinking that Junior’s peeps (probably to be fed) are an excellent way to call attention to itself, kind of like crying out “eat me, eat me” or putting a big ole target on one’s back. Obviously, though I may not understand it, the strategy works for survival, because otherwise we wouldn’t have robins at all.

My grandma had a nice saying: you don’t have to understand, you just have to accept. Now she may not have been talking about wildlife babies, but I think it still applies. Wildlife have many different strategies to ensure survival of their young. We don’t have to understand the details of all of them, but we need to accept that they are there. And accept that they really do not need our help to grow up.

The best thing we can do whenever we find the young of wildlife is to just simply leave it alone.

In other news: things are hopping over here at Marr Park – ensure your own young survive the summer (by not driving you mad) and bring them on out. We are now accepting registrations for summer day camps. Our Youth Fishing Clinic is scheduled for Saturday, June 2. And many of the projects long in the works are in their final stages: trail and campground Grand Opening is set for June 30.

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