The constant chatter of baby birds has been my background music lately, as the second brood of the season has arrived. I saw this young Red-bellied Woodpecker clinging to the peanut feeder this morning, fiercely fending off the Brown-headed Nuthatches who were none to pleased by his presence.
Now, let’s be honest. When baby birds first hatch they are ugly. We’re talking capital letter exclamation point UGLY!
Some birds, like bluebirds, gain a measure of cuteness by the time they leave the nest.
Others take longer to overcome their lack of color and coordination. Red-bellied Woodpeckers fall into this category. In fact, they are often so awkward in appearance that our family has come to use that very adjective as their nickname. You will frequently hear someone in our house call out, “There’s an awkward on the feeder!”
When I see a young Red-bellied, I often smile as a story from my past comes to mind…
Many years ago, I worked as a Speech Pathologist in Baltimore’s inner city school system. One of my favorite students was a fifth grade girl named Cheron. She was a tough kid, with loud words and louder fists, but I had a tender spot for her in my heart. For some reason she returned my affection.
Cheron had an abrasive voice (that matched her abrasive attitude) and as a result, had ended up with a nice pair of vocal nodules. Part of her treatment plan was to decrease the amount of yelling that she did. Trust me; this was not as easy as it sounds!
One day, after school, she burst into my classroom beaming. “Miss Hoyt! Miss Hoyt! (my maiden name) – You be so proud of me! There was this girl bothering me on the playground and I did not yell at her. No, I did not yell. I got right up in her face and said, ‘Your Mama had an ugly baby!’”
I have never forgotten how oddly proud of her I felt at that moment; nor have I forgotten the cleverness of her insult!
At any rate, whenever I see a young bird that hasn’t quite grown out of its awkwardness, I hear Cheron’s voice in my head as I lovingly say to them, “Your Mama had an ugly baby!”