Friday, December 19, 2008

Feed the Birds

In my other life, in some parallel (more organised, slower, balanced and well-adjusted) universe, I am one of those fun, zippy people who blog daily, or at least several times a week about events as they are unfolding.


Almost three weeks ago, the enormous tree in our front garden split down the middle and half of it crashed spectacularly down to the ground. As always when this sort of thing happens, I find myself sending up little thank you arrows of prayer that no one was hurt, as an hour or two before this happened the kids, including Stephen, were playing in the very spot where the tree landed.

It wasn't even stormy or windy at the time, just another beautiful day in paradise.

It was extremely "cool" and "awesome" according to the kids.

Shortly afterwards, the kids were swarming up and down the fallen tree, exploring and inventing games. During the course of this, Robyn experimentally stuck a stick into a hole in the tree, and was startled at the chorus of chattering that erupted.

We realised the hole must be the entrance to a nest - probably a woodpecker's nest.

Unsure what to do, we thought we'd wait to see if the parents came back. Maybe they'd try to continue feeding the babies inside the fallen tree. In hindsight, this wouldn't have worked out. Not only would our dogs and cat never have left them in peace, the nest would soon have filled with rain water.

So, the next day, Operation Woodpecker began. Here's Peter beginning to chip away at the hole with hammer and chisel. Milo is keen to assist.

On and on this went; as it turned out the hole was the entrance to a tunnel that went 30 or 40 cm down the inside of the tree.

Finally, three hours later (we had to go very slowly and carefully), this is what we removed from the bottom of the hole:

Five very new baby woodpeckers.

Very bald, very new baby woodpeckers.

Very hungry, very bald, very new baby woodpeckers.

There had recently been a termite swarm, and the kids quickly collected some of these from the pool. We fed them every half hour, having to switch from real insects as collecting insects for five hungry babies is quite a task.

They all survived the first night, but unfortunately one died on the second day.

The other four continue to thrive.

Here they are a week later, feathers more noticeable and (though you can't see it well in this picture) eyes beginning to open.

And again, about ten days after that (now looking like birds):

And today (perched on their log while their bucket-nest is being cleaned):

They started out in a cardboard box, were quickly relocated to a more practical plastic container, and then about a week ago were upgraded to a taller bucket after I came in to feed them one day to find them half way across the bed the container was on.

They're in our granny flat, as we needed a closed-off room which we could heat (when very young they need to be kept very warm), and which we could keep the animals out of. I feed them a mixture of beef mince (they're naturally insectivorous), pronutro (high protein soya cereal), and water.

We're going away on the 27th, so I'll have to hand them over sometime soon. There's a bird whisperer sort of guy not too far away who works with all sorts of birds and he's offered to take them over and work on their release. I will be sorry to hand them over as it has been a fascinating (though demanding) experience, but even if we weren't going away I don't have the equipment (such as an aviary!) to manage their release.

Hopefully when we return from Cape Town we can go and visit the bird guy again and see how they are doing.

Not sure yet what sort of woodpeckers these actually are. It's rather hard to tell with their young plumage. The most likely candidate, in terms of location and clutch size, is the Cardinal Woodpecker, but so far there aren't really any identifiable markings visible. I'm not sure when the red would start to appear.

1 comment:

Annalise said...

That is so cool!

Enjoy Cape Town, and happy Christmas to all!