Little Gray Feather,
the Adopted Common Grackle Chick
One of the most bizarre anomalies in the world of ornithology I have ever witnessed was in May 2009.
It was in that month when my wife happened to look out a second floor bedroom window of our condo townhome in Aurora, Colorado and see two little boys carrying bird nests, prompting her to investigate. As it turns out, the two boys were innocently engaged in the exploration of birds’ nests they had discovered—apparently having observed adult birds flying to and from the nests. My wife lovingly explained to them that it wasn’t a good idea to move nests with eggs or chicks and suggested they return the nests to where they had found them.
However, by then the boys had already relocated at least two nests to a not-so-tall conifer at the southeast corner of the townhome complex. Apparently, they figured that by relocating the nests to lower, shorter branches, they could keep a better eye on things. The relatively short evergreen presently had a total three nests and a number of chicks had fallen to the ground. Not knowing what type of birds she was dealing with or what nests the chicks on the ground had fallen out of, my wife donned a pair of gloves and placed the fallen chicks back into two of the nests. When I returned home from work, she requested I examine the situation. Upon doing so, I found that she had mistakenly placed Common Grackle chicks with American Robin chicks and a few chicks had again fallen out of their nests—one to the ground, a couple of others onto branches. It was a problematic scenario for all parties involved, especially the chicks.
Appearances suggested we were dealing with two broods of Robins and one of Grackles, both types of birds being common to the complex. Presuming the highest nest in the tree to be that of a Grackle, I placed the Grackle chicks in that one and divided the Robins evenly between the other two lower nests, holding out little hope for a positive outcome.
In less than two days all chicks died except for one: a Grackle. And soon, the nest had become tipped. I adjusted it so the sole survivor wouldn’t fall out.
Now, one would think an adult Robin would know the difference between one of its own and a stranger. Yet, to our amazement, a pair of mating Robins quickly adopted the baby Grackle and took to raising it as their own. This caused me to think that the nest had actually been built by the mother Robin. We named the chick Little Gray Feather and observed its development into June until it left the nest and was capable of very short flights while still being tended to by its adoptive parents.
Using a Panasonic Lumix-DMC FZ8 digital camera, on May 29, 2009, I took a video of the Grackle in the nest and one of its adoptive Robin parents feeding it and cleaning up after it. Following are photos captured from the video, arranged in chronological order from left to right:
Little Gray Feather
Copyright ©2015 Dan Vaisanen
What an amazing story and the photos and video to go along with it. Thanks Dan for sharing this with us. Dan Vaisanen is an acquaintance of James J. S. Johnson.
Other birds have fed babies that are not their own, but this was all done by accident. It is interesting that one species, the Robins, were willing to feed another species’ baby, but that the Grackles would not do the same for the Robin babies. Must be a truth there somewhere.
“So then, whatever you desire that others would do to and for you, even so do also to and for them, for this is (sums up) the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:12 AMP)