The changing natural world at our doorsteps | Illustration and text by Patterson Clark
July 3, 2012
Robin fledglings face independence with the help of their dad
"PEEEK, chuck, tuck, tuck . . . PEEEK!"
Sounding the potential-predator alarm, a father robin alerts his fledgling to an approaching human.
Squat in the middle of a lawn, the baby bird freezes, its head cocked back, scanning for danger.
When the human draws too close, the chick panics, using its half-grown wings to propel it on a frantic, turf-top flight for cover in an overgrown fence row.
This fledgling might be the last of its siblings to survive. Only a quarter of American robin chicks make it to adulthood, successfully escaping the jeopardy of cats, crows, squirrels, snakes and lawn pesticides.
In June, while this chick was being incubated by its mother, its father was busily tending to fledglings from the brood that hatched a few weeks earlier.
That duty gave the father less time to protect his mate from the advances of other male robins. But a female robin is less likely to stray if she has what scientists call "confidence in paternity" — that is, when she sees that her mate is effective in helping raise the young ones.
Paternal care of fledglings lasts for about two weeks after they leave the nest. Dad feeds them while they learn how to fly, groom, hunt for earthworms and ripe fruits — and make warning calls.
Although young birds can take care of themselves about a month after hatching, they continue to beg for food from their parents for a little longer. With more luck, they will be protecting their own needy offspring this time next year.
Sources: Animal Behavior, Encyclopedia of Life, Messinger Woods, learner.org, Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology