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.
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?