Thursday, June 27, 2013
Life on the Farm with Louie, Boogie, and Purple Martins
It’s a rainy day. I planned to use today to mend fences on our one enclosed pasture. But had no choice but to spend the morning on our enclosed porch, drinking coffee, and watching whatever birds braving the damp elements. I often see or hear some forty species of birds on a summer day on this Trumbull County farm. Watching birds always makes a damp day a little brighter.
Our house is Amish built and once Amish owned but now converted to modern utilities or to “English” as the Amish might say. With the property we inherited two very active Purple Martin houses just off the front porch. The Amish appreciate the Martin’s insatiable diet for pesky insects and especially mosquitoes. Summer days are full of Martin chatter, acrobatic flights and plenty of social interactions within the colony.
The Purple Martins have fledged several young birds and still in the process. This morning I noticed a young Purple Martin on the ground in the vicinity of the feeders. Martins are pretty much aerial creatures but like to perch on wires, sometimes trees, and occasionally on bushes. They do not land on the ground and if so aren’t there but for a few seconds.
The fledgling Martin is in trouble, or at least very vulnerable to predators. The young bird cannot yet fly. It won’t be long…..but it is an eternity when there is danger all around. The problem is compounded by rain soaked wings and body. A safer place to be would be in a tree with some cover from the rain and off the ground.
Being the human that I am, I began to think about ways I might help this poor helpless fledgling bird from the many hazards of the farm. I could go out there, fetch the bird and place it up in a tee. I could stand guard until the bird is ready to fly. So I did none of that, but watched, took pictures and thought about what the hazards might be and a little more about the best course of action.
I watched, no less than, a dozen Purple Martins over the course of a couple of hours tend, in their own way to the protection of the single bird. They would fly around and over very close to the fledgling. At first it seemed only a presence. Then I realized they were coaxing the fledgling closer to bushes by the porch where the bird was out in the open expanses of the yard.
I saw two immediate threats that I could control. The first and greatest is our barn cat Boogie. The second threat, although I am not so sure how serious, is our rescue Pit Bull, Louie. So I retrieved Boogie and put him in the house where he spends most of his time when not patrolling the barn for rodents. I locked Louie on the porch with me where he mostly sleeps, snores, and probably contemplates life, like I do.
While I was pondering and observing, I heard the familiar call of our resident Red-shouldered Hawks. It caused me to recollect that last year I witnessed the hawks fetch two Martins. In spite of several attacking Martins, I saw martins in the hawk’s talons as they made off for a meal. I assumed that they were fledgling martins, probably on the ground just like this bird…unable to escape the opportunistic Red-shouldered Hawk. It is important to note that this species of hawk is not a bird eater. While it eats mice and snakes it is not equipped to catch the normally too quick and fleeting birds.
The Purple Martins were prepared to dive bomb the cat and thwarting the would-be predator, I surmised. They would have done the same to Louie, although I doubt that Louie would pay attention to either the fledgling or the attack of the Martins. But the Martins ultimately were most concerned about the Red-shouldered Hawk, who demonstrated that it would surely take advantage of the situation.
By waiting and watching I was reminded of my firm belief that intervention in nature is usually not a wise or effective course of action. I spent more than 20 years administering and engaging in wildlife rehabilitation and I learned very early on, that taking nature’s course was an important element to the balance of nature. I sometimes results in outcomes we do not prefer but the odds of the outcome being positively resolved is far greater without intervention. I have learned to trust the system and to control my humanitarian inclinations.
I can’t control nature but I can control the hazards I have introduced into nature. So Louie and Boogie were deprived of acting badly, and the fledgling Martin left to its own devices and the appropriate support built into the life-history of the Purple Martin.
I got a little smarter on a rainy morning. I saw another example of how much more complex nature really is than is generally acknowledged. We are better served to control what we do, than to try to control nature. I still remove turtles, snake, and frogs from busy highways but I will contemplate that another time, perhaps, on a nicer day when I am repairing pasture fences.