Hart Beat by Hart Rufe

First published May 1, 2014 ... Contact Hart at hartrufe@gmail.com

It's easy to anthropomorphise when it comes to mother birds and their chicks.

Mother’s Day

Mother: everyone has one, or at least had one at one time, and some men have two, if they have children. The demographics make it a perfect day for commercial exploitation. Greeting card companies, florists, confectioners, jewelers, restaurant owners, and telephone companies have seen such a spike in their sales on Mother’s Day that it now ranks only behind Christmas and Valentine’s Day for peak profit performance.

Anna Jarvis is credited as the creator of the celebration of Mother’s Day in 1908, but her project got impetus when Philadelphia merchandising magnate, John Wanamaker, supported it in 1910. Finally, in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day. (Yes, it is the singular, your “Mother’s Day,” not the plural, all “Mothers’ Day.”) Miss Jarvis, who never married or became a mother, became so incensed with the commercialism that developed in the 1920s, that she spent the rest of her life and fortune protesting, fighting and even being arrested for her anti-Mother’s Day activity. She died in 1948, at age 84, regretting the fact that she had ever started it. Nevertheless, Mother’s Day, and the concomitant commercialization, continue and have now spread throughout the world.

I assume it will come as no surprise to anyone that birds have Mothers too. And while bird mothers don’t go through labor pains at birth, they are pretty restricted for upwards of a month while incubating eggs. They bond with their offspring just like human mothers, and are protective, nurturing, attentive to feeding needs, and even perform diaper removal service in the form of fecal sac disposal.

It is easy to anthropomorphize birds, but the Sandhill Crane photo above, to me, evokes images of Madonna and Child. Some bird mothers, like the American Oystercatcher, (top, left) provide shade from the blistering sun. Other mothers with precocial babies that are able to walk and swim right after birth, like the Black Duck (top, right) who has Octomom beat by three, are quick to lead their charges from danger. Another mother, like the Limpkin (left), seems to have hungry chicks literally under foot while she strives to find food for them.

Birds with altricial babies that are born sightless and featherless, perpetually present only gaping mouths to their mothers, like this Barn Swallow (below, right), even when they have passed through the bare and blind stage to bird pre-teen age. But some bird mothers are presented with hatchlings that, like Hans Christian Anderson’s Ugly Duckling, are ones that only a mother can love, until they grow into majestic birds, such as the Great Blue Heron mother and child.

Other young birds are already beginning to show the unique shaped bill that will fully develop into an American Woodstork’s (bottom, right) massive de-curved proboscis. Then, some bird babies are just plain weird, with long wavy reed-like necks that seem almost too weak to hold their heads, and bear none of their parent’s coloring, such as this Anhinga (bottom, left) mother and her three babies.

I assume also that it will come as no surprise to anyone that bird young reach the point when it is time for them to leave the nest, just like our own young adults. A friend witnessed the mother Sandhill Crane threaten and almost attack her young after almost a year of constant companionship and joint travel and feeding together. It was time for the mother to get on with a new nesting season, but the young bird clearly looked bewildered and lost when confronted by this new strange mother that had changed so drastically so suddenly. It was heart wrenching to watch. 

The world they are thrust into as young adults, just like ours, is full of dangers, predators and pitfalls. We, both humans and birds, can only hope that these young adults have been properly prepared to face life fully and find all the fascinating features and wonderful opportunities before them.

Mothers make life possible, and so what if some firms make some money while making it easy for demonstrative emotion challenged offspring to find means of expression. A great deal of love, affection, appreciation, recognition and sometimes just plain time, is devoted to Mother on that day. I am not aware of any mother who was not glad for the day of celebration. Unless she had to clean up the mess after the kids cooked the Mother’s Day meal. 

For all you ever wanted to know about the history and subsequent development of Mother’s Day, simply Google “Mother’s Day.” For information on precocial and altricial bird babies, see:   http://www.stanford.edu/group/stanfordbirds/text/essays/Precocial_and_Altricial.html.

For a short video of one mother Mallard faced with an insurmountable problem and her solution to resolve it, see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EmFCplrAXrU And another very protective Mallard mother: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BvAzdbfFJeQ. (5/1/14)

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