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[Sparrows] Bah! Why do I keep doing this?

December 10, 2012

[This is the thirteenth in a series of posts on sparrow nest-monitoring over the 2012-2013 Austral spring and summer.]

I’m back at Miranda. This time, in a real bunkroom instead of on the library floor!

One of the first things I noticed today was one of my nests had a hatchling below it. Thinking “Ah! Another known-age hatchling! The museum will be thrilled!” I bent down to pick it up.

And then it moved.



Based on what I know about the nest (recently hatched four hatchlings), and the injuries I observed on the hatchling (about adult sparrow-beak size), I consider it most likely that this hatchling was rejected from the nest by a parent looking to decrease the total number of chicks it has to provide food to, as it couldn’t manage to feed all four that were in the nest. A little brutal, but a clear demonstration of optimising likely breeding outcomes: competition is tough for sparrows here, and it is better for your Darwinian fitness to have a small number of offspring who are well fed than a large number of half-starved offspring who will never be able to compete for nests and mates themselves.

And so, I have another hatchling to look after. Based on my previous attempt at rehabilitation, I’d be very surprised if it survives the night, making it an ethanol specimen in-waiting. But I can’t just euthanase it – the only way I can think of would make it useless as a specimen. Plus, muttermutterempathyforanimalsmuttermumble. I placed it in a tee-shirt, dripped some water over its beak a few times, and went back outside.

Where there was another sparrow hatchling under the same nest, with the same injuries. I shouldn’t have been surprised – that nest had four hatchlings in it, and the most successful nest I’ve seen so far has only raised one hatchling to fledging. Even keeping two is probably pushing their luck.

Both the hatchlings are now in that tee shirt, watered, and still alive. I’ll attempt to feed them, but their odds are not high. And if I fail, there is always ethanol.

Does this make everyone feel pity, or is it just me? I suspect it's not just me.

Does this make everyone feel pity, or is it just me? I suspect it’s not just me.


From → Scientist

  1. nannus permalink

    muttermutterempathyforanimalsmuttermumble indeed! (That word has to be added to the Oxford dictionary because this is already its second appearance in writing :-)) I guess it did not survive, but it was worth a try. Or did it?

    • I’m afraid not. None of the ones I tried to rehabilitate have lasted more than 48 hours. I’ve taken to euthanasing them as soon as I find them out of the nest.

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