Readers’ wildlife photographs

If your photos haven’t appeared, in all likelihood it’s because of the backlog. (But keep sending them in!). These, for example, were sent on May 1 by reader Mark Sturtevant, and so the robins are already grown up. Mark’s notes are indented.

I do take bird pictures, when I can, and here I have a series of pictures that your readers might enjoy. We keep a wreath on our porch, and if the wife does not take it down in the Spring it almost always becomes a nesting site for an American robin (Turdus migratorius). She forgot last year, and well… the first photo shows what happened. I would encourage this complication every year, of course.


Last year was the first year with my camera, and I decided to document the growing family. I tried to keep the disturbances to a minimum. This next picture shows that the eggs were hatching. This was taken 11 days after the first picture.


Next, we see that they are all hatched by the next day. One can see that there is a difference in size among the chicks.


In the next picture, just 3 days later, one can appreciate that the rate of growth is incredible. The little one is still lagging behind, though.


And, just 3 days after that (!) they are definitely getting crowded in there. Where is the little one? Well, sadly I found it on the porch, no bigger than in the previous picture, and it was barely clinging to life. There was no chance it would survive with its siblings, and so I had to euthanize the poor thing. This is how it is for birds.


In the next two pictures we see a visit from mama. I do not know if both parents care for the chicks, but I never saw the male. Perhaps the readers could share what they know about parental care in this species.




Finally, we have a last look at the chicks. It was incredible how fast they grew! A day or two later, they were gone.

As a postscript, this season I was hoping for another nest and indeed one was being started on the wreath. I kept quiet about it, but the sharp-eyed Mrs. caught it early and took the wreath away. I think it is that robin who is now building her nest in our trumpet vines high off the ground, and well out of reach of interfering humans.



  1. Posted June 15, 2016 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    Great series of photos Mark!

  2. Heather Hastie
    Posted June 15, 2016 at 8:10 am | Permalink

    Lovely Mark! I enjoyed that. 🙂

  3. rickflick
    Posted June 15, 2016 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    Well documented. Compared to this, human growth and development is sluggish – even snailish? Can you just imagine if we grew to maturity in days instead of decades. It certainly would avoid some of the headaches of child rearing.

  4. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted June 15, 2016 at 8:25 am | Permalink

    Chirping about birds, Herculano-Houzel takes the measure of man again:

    “Research gives new meaning to the term ‘bird brain’ …

    The macaw has a brain the size of an unshelled walnut, while the macaque monkey has a brain about the size of a lemon. Nevertheless, the macaw has more neurons in its forebrain – the portion of the brain associated with intelligent behavior – than the macaque. …

    That is possible because the neurons in avian brains are much smaller and more densely packed than those in mammalian brains, the study found. Parrot and songbird brains, for example, contain about twice as many neurons as primate brains of the same mass and two to four times as many neurons as equivalent rodent brains. …

    “But bird brains show that there are other ways to add neurons: keep most neurons small and locally connected and only allow a small percentage to grow large enough to make the longer connections. This keeps the average size of the neurons down,” she explained.”

    [ ]

    Interesting videos too, summing up to another TED talk almost.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted June 15, 2016 at 8:36 am | Permalink

      That reminds me of a TED talk regarding the brains of primates vs other mammals. One point there was that primate brains had a greater density of cerebral cortex neurons.

  5. ChrisB
    Posted June 15, 2016 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    With regard to chick rearing behavior in robins, both males and females feed the chicks, and the male will also bring food to the female while she is incubating eggs and brooding young, although she gets much of her food on her own.

    The males also spend time singing and doing other territory maintenance, so the female does most of the feeding. Although they are territorial, the males tend to go to communal roosts with other males at night.

    Like many birds, eggs are spaced out over time, in robins about one a day. It takes time to make an egg, so the spacing is partly a function of time/resource constraints. However, it is likely this also acts to maximize reproduction with unpredictable resource availability. If the parents can’t keep up with the food demands of the entire brood, the smallest/youngest are the first to go, rather than have the entire brood potentially go malnourished.

    • John Harshman
      Posted June 15, 2016 at 9:30 am | Permalink

      Also, in much of the U.S., robins often have two broods in a season. While the female is incubating the second brood, the male is off caring for the already fledged first brood.

    • Charlie Jones
      Posted June 15, 2016 at 10:32 am | Permalink

      The other day I watched a male robin feeding its fledgling kid on the ground. The young bird keep cheeping loudly and was unconcerned about my presence. The dad was more wary, so I backed off to watch him stuff a worm deep down the young guy’s throat. Then he hopped up on the curb and started singly beautifully. His lovely call was in marked contrast to the harsh cheeping of the young bird demanding more noms.

      • ChrisB
        Posted June 15, 2016 at 11:13 am | Permalink

        Good observations. This brings up another interesting parenting behavior. Once the young are fledged, the male takes over most of the feeding responsibilities. Throughout most of their range robins have two broods a year. Once the first brood is fledged, the female is busy preparing the nest for the next brood and getting enough nutrition to develop more eggs.

        • John Harshman
          Posted June 15, 2016 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

          It’s like deja vu all over again.

          • ChrisB
            Posted June 15, 2016 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

            Sorry for the duplicate info, I didn’t see John Harshman’s post above.

        • rickflick
          Posted June 15, 2016 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

          You have to wonder how far back these specific behaviors go. Since the dinosaurs laid eggs, I suppose it could be as old as 100 million years.

          • John Harshman
            Posted June 15, 2016 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

            Which specific behaviors? There’s evidence for laying one egg per day per ovary (that’s one for birds, two for Oviraptor). There’s evidence for young dinosaurs staying in the nest for some time after hatching. And there’s some evidence for parents feeding young in the nest.

            • rickflick
              Posted June 15, 2016 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

              That’s what I was wondering. As specifically as we know, or may ever know, how much of the robins pas de deux might we find in the first birds. It looks like you are reporting enough to say it probably goes back a very long time. I find that kind of breathtaking.

              • John Harshman
                Posted June 15, 2016 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

                Well, some of it goes back a long time. Some of it varies greatly among closely related species, and some is behaviorally plastic in individual birds, depending on conditions.

                The “one egg per day” thing is nearly universal in birds, and (again allowing for the fact that non-avian dinosaurs had two ovaries) possibly universal in dinosaurs. But it’s possible that the primitive behavior in birds is for the male to build the nest and incubate the eggs exclusively, as is the case in all paleognath birds, and young leaving the nest very soon after hatching, without ever being fed, is almost certainly primitive too. It’s complicated, and requires mapping characteristics onto a well-resolved phylogeny.

              • rickflick
                Posted June 15, 2016 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

                The paleognath (a quick google reveals) are some of those flightless big birds that indeed do look primitive. It is lucky to have models for what we think are primitive behaviors.

              • John Harshman
                Posted June 15, 2016 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

                Evolution is weird. The primitive appearance of those flightless paleognaths is highly derived. They’re all descended from flying birds that probably looked something like chickens or pigeons.

  6. darrelle
    Posted June 15, 2016 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    Very nice series of pictures Mark. I enjoy your notes as much as the pictures. You have a knack for it. I think you should do a book of pictures with notes in a format similar to this. I think it could sell well.

  7. Tom
    Posted June 15, 2016 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    How does one euthanize a chick? I was once in a similar situation and I didn’t know what to do.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted June 15, 2016 at 11:56 am | Permalink

      Erm, well, I simply took it to a quiet spot and used my foot. It was very quick.

  8. jeffery
    Posted June 15, 2016 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    An old lady I know had this happen with a wreath on an outside wall (I never did determine what bird did it; the brood was fledged and gone by the time she noticed it. I CAN sympathize with Mark’s wife’s desire to take the wreaths down. When I took the one down, the brick wall behind it was badly stained by chick-poop!

    • Posted June 20, 2016 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

      So one should first mount a suitable, easily washable or disposable surface behind the wreath.
      We had a similar problem with swallows nesting. They liked the corner of one particular window. I could easily wash their poop off the glass, the problem was that as long as they were nesting, we could not open the window. My husband attached a thin piece of wood to the window frame, so that to provide them with support for the nest other than the window itself. However, they did not like the wood and did not nest there anymore.

  9. Posted June 20, 2016 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

    The egg color is incredible.

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