Monday, July 18, 2011

Day 69: Close call

Murre chicks are fledging right now. "Fledging" typically refers to when chicks leave the nest or become independent. In the case of murres, chicks leave the colony with their dads and spend up to several months at sea with their parent, being fed and learning how to find food. The unusual part is that they do this before they are fully developed. Chicks are less than half grown and can't yet fly when they are led to sea by their fathers. This makes them vulnerable when they are in the process of fledging. They have to make their way through thousands of murres to the water's edge where they often have to jump off a cliff to make it to the water. It's one of the most amazing events to watch. The male parent solicitously leading its offspring to the edge, jumping in the water and calling to it's chick until it finally works up the courage to jump. Gulls are constantly on the look out for these unprotected chicks so they have to make up their minds quickly. Even in the water they are not out of danger. Although the chicks know instinctively how to dive, gulls still occasionally grab them off the surface. The chick above dove several times before this gull finally nabbed it by a foot. The parent gave chase though and the gull eventually dropped the chick. The reunited pair made their way very quickly away from the island.

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