Be quiet, you big baby!

There is a lot of racket in the backyard these days — cowbird chicks have fledged and are once again driving their Chipping Sparrow parents crazy with their persistent chirping demands to be fed.  I have recently written about the Cowbird’s “Mafia strategy” for getting other species to raise its chicks (you can click here to (re)read that post).  The unfortunate Chipping Sparrows seem to be regular hosts for the Cowbirds in my backyard.  This is the third year I have seen the diminutive little sparrows foraging intensely to satisfy the appetite of chicks that are twice their size.

Cowbird chick waiting patiently (?) for its foster parent to return with something good to eat.

Cowbird chick waiting patiently (?) for its foster parent to return with something good to eat.

Doing a little preening while waiting.

Doing a little preening while waiting.

Then a foster parent arrives and the cowbird chick goes into a frenzy, fluttering its wings and tail, chirping loudly.  The Chipping Sparrow looks little intimidated, doesn't it?

Then a foster parent arrives and the cowbird chick goes into a frenzy, fluttering its wings and tail, chirping loudly. The Chipping Sparrow looks a little intimidated, doesn’t it?

The chick looks big enough to swallow its foster parent whole.

The cowbird chick looks big enough to swallow its foster parent whole.

And back the parent goes to find something else for this voracious eater it has mistakenly raised.  Chipping Sparrows feed their own young, as well as their foster kids, insects, even though they themselves eat a varied diet of seeds, fruit, and insects during the summer.  As I watched these host-brood parasite interactions, I saw the adults spend a lot of time hunting damselflies, flies, bees, etc. in the grass around the base of the buckeye tree in which this big baby was sitting.

On this trip, it looks like the sparrow nabbed a damselfly.

On this trip, it looks like the sparrow nabbed a damselfly, judging from the long, slender abdomen and wings sticking out of its beak.

No problem fitting this tiny little damselfly in that great big maw.

No problem fitting that tiny little damselfly in the chick’s great big maw.

Even though they get fed by both parents, they just keep screeching for more.

Even though the chick was getting fed by both parents, it just kept screeching for more.

The Chipping Sparrows didn’t spend all of their energy feeding the cowbird chick — I could hear them feeding a couple of their own babies that were hiding in the shrubs on the side of the yard.

16 thoughts on “Be quiet, you big baby!

  1. Nice shots. The difference in size is striking with the sparrow. In my yard it’s usually the cardinals feeding the cowbaby. A few days ago I saw one with a group of newly fledged House Sparrows. They were all ignoring him – I’m not sure where he came from, but thankfully no cardinals were feeding him.

    • Interesting! I haven’t seen any cardinals subjected to this parasitism, just the chipping sparrows. I’ll have to keep an eye out, though because there are at least a couple of pairs of cardinals feeding chicks in the backyard right now.

      • I rarely catch them feeding their young, they usually hide in the shrubs at the back fence where I can’t get a photo. But last year, finally, I caught a feeding in the open at one of the bird baths. Little Baby Huey was squawking away for food and I just happened to have my camera nearby on the table.

    • It’s my wonderful Buckeye tree that is almost as good as a blind for getting shots of birds (and squirrels) doing their thing. I stood under the tree and the birds pretty much ignored me, fortunately.

    • It’s interesting how some species can get away with removing cowbird eggs from their nest (e.g., Brown thrashers) while others get the Mafia treatment instead.

  2. Pingback: Beggars | Back Yard Biology

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