by Jenny Dixon

Wharfedale Naturalists Society

I’D already given blackbird, Mr Raisins, his breakfast of sultanas. Then, as I mixed my own muesli, I glanced out of the kitchen window and saw him, just outside the door, feeding sultanas to an adolescent chick. Junior was still quite ruffled and fluffy, very rotund and with a short tail – not long fledged, I judged. Catching sight of my movement, s/he scuttled under the patio table – but continued to receive his share of titbits in this hiding place. The youngster has since grown in size and independence, coming onto the patio alone and feeding on leftover dried mealworms.

Yes – it’s the time when garden and countryside are full of fledglings. We’ve enjoyed watching blue tit and great tit chicks being fed and have regular sightings of a young robin on the fence behind the feeders. Young robins are tricky to identify: the red breast only comes gradually, the chick looking for a long time like a diminutive thrush with a yellowish tinge to its chest. In fact, understandably, most fledgling song birds are drab – a good strategy to help them to hide from predators. Young blackbirds and young bullfinches of both sexes look like females.

Bird species vary greatly in parental care. Mr Raisins shared child care with his mate. If all the clutch successfully fledge, the parents will split the family and care for their charges in different areas to share resources. If only one or two chicks survive, the female may start incubating another clutch while the male is in sole charge of the offspring. Some males, like mallards, take no part at all once the eggs are laid. The male goosanders leave the hens sitting on eggs in tree-hole nest sites and go off to a kind of bachelor holiday resort in Northern Scandinavia. The females often share parental duties and you can see one followed by a retinue of 20 or so fluffy chicks on the Wharfe in the summer. Great crested grebes are devoted parents – both sexes tending and guarding their tiny chicks and carrying them about on their backs: a charming sight!

While many chicks spend days or even weeks in the nest, others – including most moorland nesting waders- leave immediately and find their own food but are guarded by both parents (a very vulnerable time).

Garden fledglings, like young Raisins, are at high risk till they can fly well. The most deadly predators are cats – so we can really help by keeping pets in over night!