Chick rescue is no laughing matter
The laughing doves that nest in my bougainvillea every year are a source of great joy, as I get to watch them raise their chicks. But this year the little ones caused a lot of drama. By Sue Stovell
My garden, here in Table View, has become my own little wildlife reserve: chameleons in the hedge, praying mantas building nests on my curtains, bumble bees on the lavender, beautiful caterpillars, 27 different types of birds and many other small creatures. Add to that the pelicans and fish eagles that fly over our house on their way to Rietvlei. Two species of birds I keep an eye on are the pied crow and my old friend Mr Jackie Hangman (the fiscal shrike), who are most welcome but no hunting in this garden. Well, not when I am around.
Each year around September I have a pair of laughing doves nest in my bougainvillea which is just outside my lounge’s French doors. This September was no different, other than I decided not to ‘get involved’ like the previous year when I documented by camera, the entire proceedings from the nest building to the maiden flight of the chicks.
Now there was a nest, with two chicks well cared for by mom and dad. I have to walk under an arch of the bougainvillea, where the nest is, to get to my garden, so I talk to the birds on the nest, just to let them know, I know they are there and I am not a threat to them. Once I had seen a fiscal shrike in the bougainvillea and was able to walk right up to it. I told it to go hunt somewhere else. As if it could understand!
Sue having a chat with the laughing doves. Picture by Adrian Stovell.
So it was, a beautiful spring Friday afternoon, I was watching a movie with the doors open onto the patio. The bougainvillea had just started to show its first little pink blossoms which were soon to cover the entire plant and in doing so would hide the laughing doves’ nest completely.
I have become so aware of the different bird calls and their alarm calls that I often find myself, on hearing a strange call, running outside to see who the new visitor is. This time there was no mistake, an alarm call, the nest was under attack. I jumped up and ran outside to see and hear a rumpus at the nest: there was a heap of birds in the nest, Cape sparrows, our doves and the fiscal shrike.
As I got under the nest a little chick fell to the ground. I remember shouting: “Hide, I’ll get you later.” With me screaming and shouting the birds scattered to nearby trees and then it was all still. My heart was pounding as I called my son to come and help, I could see a little chick still in the nest but very still.
We grabbed a garden chair and I managed to reach into the nest and retrieve the chick, I held its little body, still warm, in my hand, hoping it was just in shock but sadly it was dead. I was mad and sad but knew I had to find the other chick and get it back into the nest. It was gone, I looked everywhere, nothing – had the fiscal shrike gone behind me in all the commotion and grabbed the other baby? How could I let this happen!
I felt terrible, the parents sat looking down at me. Had I failed them, I wondered, with two chicks gone. No, I had to look again. I placed the little body in the garden so the parents could see they had lost one. I hoped the parents would return and start to look for the chick but there was no sign of anyone. They were probably so traumatised from the attack that to come back now, was too soon. I felt terrible, to lose one was bad enough but both, that was horrible.
I knew one had dropped out of the nest and it was definitely alive when I last saw it. So I decided to increase the search area – maybe it had walked further than I initially thought it could. Nothing, nothing at all, but I could not give up. The fiscal shrike could never have carried it away, it was too big I was sure. Back to the fall area, this time, like the FBI, every plant was parted and every leaf lifted. The ferns were next, I opened them up section by section, deeper and deeper, I had to be sure and then there it was, our little hero.
The chick had gone right to the back of the ferns and was huddled up, a ball of feathers. I carefully took it out and checked it for injury, it looked fine. My son held the garden chair again while I placed it in the nest, at last it was home; now to make sure mom and dad returned to care for it.
That was at 6pm, by 7.45pm not a sign of the parents, at 8pm I decided on plan B. Remove the chick for the night, get up early and place the usual seed and bread out for the birds, plus the little chap. I wanted the parents to see it was still alive, and then I could put it back in the nest.
Find out what happened the next day as Sue tried to return the chick to its parents.