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[Sparrows] An unexpected Boxing Day present

January 6, 2013

[This is the sixteenth in a series of posts on sparrow nest-monitoring over the 2012-2013 Austral spring and summer. It’s a little backdated, because a festival interrupted my posting schedule]

There is a meme about research which states that the great discoveries in science are heralded not with cries of ‘Eureka!’, but with mutterings of “Huh. That’s weird…”. That may be true, but many, many things are heralded by the same mutterance. Here’s one:

There is a nest that sits in the plum tree which had been incubating two hatchlings. At my last check, on Dec 21st, both were growing rapidly and about five days away from fledging. On the check in question, on Dec 26th, I had my assistant with me and, as this nest is low (I am tall and can reach the highest nests, my assistant is less tall and so gets to check all the low ones), my assistant was checking it.

My assistant reached in. A concerned voice: “It feels like there are two hatchlings in here, but they’re moving really oddly. I can’t feel any eggs.”

Me: “Huh. That’s weird. Can you pull them out so we can have a look at them?”

My assistant did so. One visceral scream of terror later, the two hatchlings were propelled across the study site, pieces dropping off them as they flew.

As you may have guessed, those hatchlings had died very shortly after the last check, and their odd movements were, in fact, maggots gently seething. Field ecology is not a science for the faint of stomach!

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From → Scientist

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