I saw this chick sitting on the grass at Balls Head Reserve recently, looking singularly unimpressed with life:
At first, I wondered if it had been abandoned, but given the group nesting habits of Noisy Miners, I hoped an adult would soon come to the rescue. Sure enough, a couple of minutes later, one arrived with a bit of lerp:
It quickly stuffed the lerp into the chick’s maw:
The adult stepped back to survey the chick before leaving:
A few minutes later, another adult arrived. First it checked on the all-round status of the chick:
Satisfied, it hopped around to deliver its lerp to the other end of the chick:
The adult then departed, ignoring the chick's apparent protest:
The disgruntled chick seemed to throw a little tantrum:
However, it didn’t need to wait long. Tim Low (in Where Song Began) states that noisy miners bring a rapid stream of small food items to their chicks, and I witnessed a steady flow of adults arriving with their food parcels.
Then an adult arrived that clearly hadn’t read the bit in Mr Low’s book about food items being “small”.
It seemed the chick was willing:
But I soon began to wonder if the chick’s eyes were bigger than its stomach:
Even the adult was beginning to have its doubts:
It was clear something would have to give:
The chick had the solution, however. It would make room!
The next sequence reminded me of a boring church service with the minister droning on, when your torpor is broken by the baby in the next row grunting and going red in the face. Any parent knows exactly what the baby is doing. Here, the equivalent was the chick raising its rear end high, watched by the adult bird, which also knew exactly what was going on. After a few wriggles, the chick squeezed out a large white parcel wrapped in what looked like gel packaging. The adult dutifully picked up the package and flew away with it.
After this display of the superiority of noisy miner nest hygiene over human nappies, the chick finished swallowing its green monster (you can just see a green leg sticking out of the chick’s beak in the pictures above). It was soon ready for its next titbit:
I didn’t want to leave the chick exposed in the open, with currawongs and kookaburras around. There was no obvious nest that it could have fallen out of, but I had noticed a second chick on the ground some distance away. It was in a much more sheltered position, under a small tree. This chick was also getting adult attention, and I got a few quick shots of it:
So, after some internal debate about intervening or not, I compromised and put the first chick close to where the second one had been under the tree, and left them to it.
According to Tim Low’s Where Song Began, noisy miners operate in quite large groups, with individual birds able to switch between flocks. Mating is promiscuous and not subject to any pair bonding. Similarly, where there is a nest with young in it, all of the group share in the feeding – even those birds that are not closely related to the nestlings. Up to 22 different birds have been seen feeding one brood of chicks. Miners in the group also share in defending the nest. Low surmises that this widespread sharing allows smaller food items, including lerp, to be supplied in a steady stream by the numerous helpers. One miner group can have several nests within its territory.
Currawongs and butcher birds will normally predate any available chicks, but it seems they generally leave noisy miner nests alone for fear of being targeted by the adults. This explains why I referred to the chick’s feeders as “adults”, not “parents”, and why I was less worried than I might otherwise have been about leaving the chick in the care of its “village” of adults.