Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Down Will Come Cradle

A couple of weeks ago ­­it seemed too early in the season for nestlings to fetch up on the ground. Now I’ve found one, and as in most cases, it’s fallen from Fortress Totara, the big tree in our front garden. 

This particular baby was accompanied by its cradle: that’s what a nest is, essentially ...or is a cradle really a kind of nest? 

It looks like the work of a blackbird. I can’t tell from the dead nestling (it has only a few tufts of nascent feathers) but the weave of the nest suggests it.

From my perspective the nest is small — it would easily fit in my two hands. Alongside the spilled contents, though, it’s monumental, and the tree is the world.

An old nursery rhyme comes to mind: 
Rock-a-bye baby on the tree-top
When the wind blows the cradle will rock
When the bough breaks the cradle will fall
Down will come baby, cradle and all.

When I mentioned these lyrics to a new mother, she responded by wondering: who would sing their child such a lullaby? It’s the stuff of nightmares. Nevertheless, for birds, the events it describes are far from unusual.

*  *  *

My previous post sentimentalised about how a tiny hen’s egg and a very small bird’s nest, found the same day, “might have been made for each other”. Nature, however, is more practical.

That nest, light grey, is made largely from the silken innards of a moth-plant pod, so I’d puzzled about why numerous fine black particles of dirt were falling on to the sheet of paper below. It turns out that the nest has been the ideal incubator for someone else’s eggs: those of an unseen insect that laid them within the weave. Small white larvae have hatched and are
producing droppings.

Nature abhors a vacuum.

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