Monday, June 18, 2012

Update on my little grackle friend

Yesterday, I decided that I wanted to get a video of the grackle feeding. I've been experimenting with different ways of feeding it to try and make as similar as it would be in the wild. I took the box with the grackle outside as the morning light was quite nice. Once outside, I propped open the lid to get the camera angle right . I had a feeling that this would happen so the spot I chose is a little patio that's built about 3.5' into the ground with a little stairwell going out. I figured if Chaiet got out, it probably wouldn't be able to fly high enough to get out of the patio. Boy was I wrong. As soon as I opened the lid just wide enough it popped right out. 

It took about two hours of trying to catch it before I finally was able to get it back in the box. I felt really terrible because I had put more importance on getting a video of the grackle than I did on the grackle's safety. With photography I often face the choice of getting a photo or directly engaging with the plant/animal I'm photographing. I'm always frustrated when the medium gets in the way, becoming a filter rather than a tool. This was definitely one such moment and the bird almost escaped. While it was really wonderful watching it fly and exploring its surroundings. I particularly enjoyed watching it perched on a branch that was gently blowing in the wood. It only has one good leg, so it was constantly shifting its weight and moving its wings and tail to readjust. It reminded me of watching a kid on a playground versus watching the same kid out in the woods. Out in the woods there's so much more variability in stimuli and the brain just gets working in all these different ways. I feel bad keeping Chaiet in captivity, but I also don't feel like it's ready to be released. When I'm back in Burlington I'll try feeding it lots more bugs and try and get a little portable chicken-tractor type set up so it can forage on the ground.

Lessons on how to feed a young, fledged grackle:
Initially I was putting chicken pellets I had soaked in water on a spoon and then feeding it to the grackle on that (watch this video to see grackles soaking their food). The grackle seemed more prone to taking the food, however, when it was on my finger rather than a metal spoon. It also prefers to take food out of my hand when I pinch the food rather than just put it on my finger (perhaps the pinched fingers more closely resemble its mother's beak?). While the grackle won't take food from me when I put it below its neck, it doesn't seem to prefer any particular height above that (my mom was telling me about a pelican she was helping rehab that absolutely wouldn't eat a fish unless you dangled it right above its head). The grackle would seldom pick up pieces of food that it had dropped, and it frequently dropped the largest pieces. 

What I started doing was presenting the food. At Shelburne Farms I remember someone saying that they feed the piglets all at once. If they separated them or fed them slowly throughout the day they might not eat as much. The young ones are hyper competitive against their litter mates for attention/food. The strongest get more, the runts get less. They gorge on food to get it before their siblings can. With this in mind, I would present the food then pull it away, then present it again. I found that the bird was more likely to take bites (and more of them) when I tried this method.

I would also tap its bill to induce feeding. I read that mothers will tap their baby's bill to get it to open its mouth. Chaiet seemed to respond by opening its mouth and occasionally putting its beak entirely around its finger (as though my finger would regurgitate food into its mouth). This method works pretty well. It also definitely seemed to prefer egg yolk, but if it hadn't eaten for a while or if it appeared thirsty/hot (keeping its beak open) it would go after the soaked pellets with great zeal.

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