A Redwing blackbird setting off on his rounds. Gary Billmark photo

Birds of Cranbrook: The new generation

On the highway through Cranbrook, traffic comes to a stop at the lights at the intersection at 22nd Street North. The lights turn green, but traffic stays stopped, while a duck leads her passel of ducklings across the highway, waddling along the crosswalk, to get to the creek running in front of the Chamber of Commerce office. The vehicles in both directions wait, while the ducks make their best speed, which isn’t much. The mother duck strolls calmly, the ducklings nervously cluster together. It’s quite a sight — a family of ducks crossing the highway in front of a large delivery truck, which waits patiently until they’re past. The ducks reach the other side and head down into the creek. Traffic waits until the lights turn green again, then resumes with a grinding roar.

* * *

A nest of Say’s phoebes is built on a ledge under a backdoor overhang. The four chicks have almost reached adult size, though they still have their “baby bird mouths.” One of the chicks has just launched itself from the nest for the first time, and is flapping its wings furiously, looking for a perch. It finally manages a precarious landing on the outdoor light on the overhang ceiling. The parent birds are alarmed, and hovering about their chick. The young flycatcher has had enough, and wants to go back to the nest, but is having difficulty. It launches itself into the air again, working its young wings frantically, trying to navigate. The air in front of the back door of the house is vibrating with birds’ wings. After making a landing on a deck chair, and another back on the light, the chick makes its way back to the nest, almost by accident, and snuggles in with its siblings.

* * *

A chickadee has flown into the window of a house. Stunned, it manages to recover somewhat and fly laboriously across the backyard. It finds purchase in a caragana hedge, and sits motionless, waiting for the activity of dogs, deer and humans to cease. Night has just fallen, and a heavy rainstorm with thunder is just beginning. The chickadee will wait out the storm in the hedge. In the morning it has moved on.

* * *

A black-chinned hummingbird comes out to defend its territory from walkers approaching too closely, along a trail in Idlewild Park. In a state of belligerence, it flies a tight, figure-eight-pattern beside the trail, generating a deep, buzzing sound. You would almost think from the sound it was a hornet — a hornet the size of your thumb, rather than a tiny, fearless, angry bird. The hummingbird stops and alights on a branch, to see what the intruders do. When they don’t move, the bird resumes its aerial challenge, flying its tight figure eight and buzzing until they walk away.

The hummingbirds will soon be heading up to higher elevations, to feast on the delicious fireweed on the mountain slopes. They’ll be back for the height of summer.

* * *

Redwing blackbirds have no fear, even of the Kings of Idlewild Park — the ospreys who live there. You can see an osprey wheeling overhead, with a blackbird in pursuit. At the other side of town, by Elizabeth Lake, a crow has stolen an egg from a nest — a duck’s egg, by the look of it, and is lugging it away through the air. A blackbird is in pursuit, sounding alarums.

* * *

The young Canada geese at Idlewild and Elizabeth Lake have grown quickly, and are almost the size of their parents, complete with their adult markings. Pedestrians can now walk past without the adult geese hissing and hefting their wings threateningly. Still best to give them a wide berth. Those wings can pack a wallop.

* * *

A young crow, just out of the nest, lies badly hurt at the side of an alley. Its back appears to be broken. It cannot get out of a supine position. Its legs wiggle painfully and it moves its beak in fits, trying to turn its head and right itself. In the trees above, its clan calls to it, cawing with concern. Humans, who live in the houses nearby, come over to it, wearing gloves. They tenderly and carefully lift the injured crow into a lined box and move it into a more sheltered spot. The young bird will spend its last hours in a certain degree of comfort and stillness, rather than exposed in the middle of the road.

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