When baby birds are learning to fly, they are cute as a button. Their feathers are more fluffy and fresh than those of the old birds.
At this point baby birds have not learned to be afraid of us, and if we do not frighten them by loud talking, or quick movements, we can often get near enough to see them well. They will sit up and look at us without fear.
Then someday, all at once, a young bird will decide it is time to learn to fly and begin to flap his wings, and off he will go, fluttering very hard, beating his wings, and trying to reach the next tree.
Sometimes he will reach it, and perch on a twig, and sit quite still a long time, tired with his first flight. Then the parents will come and feed him, and after a while he will fly again. This time he will go farther.
So he will go on, till in a few days he can fly very well, and follow his parents about, and begin to learn where to get food.
Sometimes when a young bird leaves the nest he does not reach the tree he starts for, but falls to the ground. Then there is trouble among the birds. He is in danger of being picked up by a cat or of getting tangled in the grass or weeds.
The poor parents are half wild with fear. They coax him to try again, and they follow him about in the grass, in great distress. I have many times picked up a little bird, and set him on a branch of a tree, or stood guard over him, driving away cats and keeping off people, till he reached a place where he would be safe.
When young birds are out, but cannot yet fly very well, there is much anxiety about them. Then, if anyone comes around to disturb them, what can the poor little mother do? Sometimes she makes her young ones hide. Some of the birds who live on the ground will give a certain cry, when in a second every little one will crouch on the ground, or creep under a leaf, and be perfectly still. Their dark colors look so like the earth one can hardly see them.
Then the mother tries to make one look at her by queer antics. She pretends to be hurt and tumbles about as if she could not fly. If it is a man or an animal who has frightened her, he will usually think he can easily catch her; so he will forget about the young ones, and follow her as she goes fluttering over the ground. She will go on playing that she is hurt, and moving away, till she leads him far from her brood. Then she will start up and fly away, and he cannot find his way back to where the little ones are still crouching.
Sometimes when a mother is frightened, she will snatch up her young one between her feet, and fly away with it. Sometimes a mother will fight, actually fly into the face of the one she fears. Often, too, other birds come to her aid; birds of many kinds, — catbirds, robins, thrashers, and others, — all come to help her drive away the enemy, for birds are almost always ready to help each other.
I once found a young blue jay who had come to the ground while trying his first flight. I thought I would pick him up and put him on a branch. But the old birds did not know what I meant to do, and perhaps they were afraid T would carry him off.
They flew at me with loud cries to drive me away, and I thought it best to go, for I did not want to make them any more unhappy than they were already.
I did not go far, because I wanted to see that no one caught the little one. He hopped about in the grass a long time, while his parents flew around him in great distress. Many times he tried to fly, but he would not rise more than two feet from the ground.
At last he seemed to make up his mind to climb a tree, for when he came to one with a rough bark he began to go up. He would fly up a few inches, then hold on with his claws to rest. And so, half flying and half climbing, he went on till he reached the lowest limb. On that he perched and was quite glad to rest after all his hard work. The old birds were happy, too, and brought food to him, and so I left them.
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