Thursday, June 14, 2012

Chaiet, the baby grackle

What: Yesterday, Callan, Brian, and I went for a run. On the way back Brian spotted a baby grackle (Quiscalus quiscula) tucked away in the grass. We stopped and the bird hopped awkwardly away, clearly injured. It was heavily favoring one leg and kept tripping. In a team effort, we caught the bird, whose left leg is definitely broken (appears to be broken at the femur) and dangles uselessly when it stands on its other leg. When we caught it the mom came back with a couple of other grackles and made some insistent clucking noises. I felt bad taking it away from its mother, but the bird couldn't fly and its leg hobbled it greatly. Brian and I wrapped it in a shirt and brought it back home.

This morning while feeding the grackle another family of grackles came by and I snagged the following video. You can more prominently hear a young starling begging its mom for food, but if you listen closely you'll hear the grackle on the right, which is much browner/less iridescent, begging for food. It made me sad to see our bird cloistered in its little cage, without a mom and its sibling(s), while so many of the other birds in the area are traveling with recently fledged young. I've been keeping it outside so it can at least hear the sounds of the other grackles and birds in the area.

Ecological notes: We've been feeding the grackle (of unknown gender, and we may never know its gender) chicken feed soaked in water along with scrambled eggs. Apparently, like kangaroo rats and many other denizens of the desert, baby birds get all of their water from metabolizing food (desert animals that do this are called xerocoles). The formula for photosynthesis is
Energy + CO2 + H2O --> O2 + C6H12O6,

Plants require water to produce their own energy stock (C6H12O6 is the simple sugar glucose). The formula for metabolism (whether for fats, sugars, or proteins), on the other hand, is precisely the opposite, using oxygen, O2, to burn sugars, C6H12O6. Rather than requiring energy from the sun to run the process, it releases energy:
O2 + C6H12O6 --> CO2 + H2O + energy

Expectedly, metabolism results in the production of CO2, which we exhale, and water, H2O, which our body can use. Mammals use heaps of water in our urine, more than is acquired by metabolizing proteins, and so need to drink. Birds birds, which excrete uric acid, can have a net gain of water from metabolizing proteins. Giving baby birds water will essentially kill them via aspiration (water filling the lungs).

Where: Burlington bike path near UVM's new track.

Other notes: My sister's middle name is Chaiet, from my maternal grandma's maiden name, and means blackbird, so I thought the name Chaiet for the little bird was a great fit. Grackle comes from gracula, the old latin for jackdaws (a type of crow), and its scientific name Quiscalus quiscula derives from the latin for quail, oddly enough. Perhaps because grackles, like quails spend so much time on the ground?

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