The Good Father

Dear Readers, as we approach the first Fathers’ Day since my own Dad died, my thoughts have been turning to what makes a good father. I believe that nature often has lessons for us, although, humans being humans, we cherry-pick what appeals to us. After all, many fathers in nature do nothing more than provide the DNA for their offspring, as do many mothers, and their children are none the worse for it. Take frogs, for example. Once the spawn is laid, the mothers take off, and it’s still not clear to scientists where exactly they go. The males may hang around in the pond for longer, and there are one or two individuals left in my garden, but they show not the slightest interest in the next generation, apart from occasionally looking at them with a hungry eye.

Mr Frog

I used to wonder if the male frogs were actually occasionally eating the tadpoles, but fortunately they’re all too much of a mouthful now. I love the way that they are all developing at different rates, which I imagine gives the generation as a whole an advantage – who is to know when the best time is to leave the pond? There are baby frogs hopping around at the moment, but also individuals who seem resigned to being tadpoles for as long as possible. Some might even spend the winter without metamorphosing completely, to emerge next spring. In the photo below you can see four different stages of development – tadpole, tadpole with long tale, froglet with short tail and, on the bottom left-hand side, froglets.

But what has intrigued me most this week has been the male blackbird. I wrote about him a few weeks ago – I’m pretty convinced that this is his first brood. What a champ he’s being, though! He’s prepared to tough out a whole bird table full of argumentative young starlings, for a start.

I have never seen a bird who is able to stuff so many mealworms into his beak at one time, and this makes sense: by the time you come back, the whole lot might have been hoovered up by somebody else.

And that somebody else might be a lot, lot bigger than you are, as in the case of this jackdaw who was stuffing his or her crop with food.

The male sparrow in the background of this photo is a very determined little character as well – he too often holds his own with the young starlings, though discretion was the better part of valour here.

And when the jackdaw, who is actually much more nervous on the bird table than the blackbird, took fright, the blackbird was in like a shot.

And so, somewhere close at hand there is a nest full of baby blackbirds. I am hoping that they will fledge successfully, and that I’ll get to see some young ones in the garden. If I don’t, it certainly won’t be because their father has lacked courage, intelligence or determination.

Incidentally, the mealworms that I’m feeding at the moment are live ones; much as it pains me to offer live prey, the dried mealworms aren’t suitable for nestlings, but they do need protein, and natural insect prey such as worms are very difficult to come by in the semi-drought that we’re having at the moment. So, I’ve put my scruples to one side for a bit. I also notice that some of the mealworms manage to escape, so maybe some of them get a reprieve. Things are never straightforward, are they?

10 thoughts on “The Good Father

    1. Bug Woman

      Yep, all froggies – the tadpoles always look to me like a massive head on a teeny tiny body, but they soon shrink to look like the one on the right. Nature is splendid, eh….

  1. gertloveday

    Its a wonder any species survive in this hostile world. And as for humans; our daughter had her first child two months ago and the constant feeding required to keep him growing and happy is staggering.

    1. Bug Woman

      I am so cheered by stories of new life. Two people in my office are pregnant, so I am already getting stuck into the knitting in honour of my mum, who only had to hear the whisper of a pregnancy, no matter how distant, and out would come the matinee jackets and booties and bonnets.

  2. Anne

    This is a delightful series of photographs. I can empathise with your scruples, having once had to purchase mice to feed both an injured Burchell’s Coucal and a Brown House Snake I had confiscated from a boy in one of my classes. In the end I had to breed the mice (couldn’t face returning to the pet shop) and gave it all up with a huge sigh of relief once the bird was able to fly off and we found a safe place to release the snake.

    1. Bug Woman

      That really is over and above the call of duty….I had a pet snake once, but it was very little and only ate earthworms. At least, I thought that was the case, until after co-habiting apparently happily with a skink that was nearly as big as he was, I came downstairs one morning to find no lizard and a very fat snake. That was the end of herpetology for me!


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