Thu 5/21/09

A Daily Walk With DietPower

Walking is the best exercise for weight loss. And the things you see!

House finch nest with eggs

I discovered these eggs today in a tiny nest atop a porch light on Kilian Drive. Five are pale blue-green and the size of medium olives. The sixth, much larger and mottled in brown, represents a major drama in the bird world.

The smaller eggs, you see, were laid by a house finch, a salt-and-pepper-gray, sparrow-like creature with a cheery, twittering song. The male house finch sports a blotch of red on its crown, as if its head has been dipped in ketchup.

Originally from Mexico and our Southwest, the house finch was introduced to Long Island in the 1940s, where entrepreneurs tried to sell caged specimens as "Hollywood finches." Although they never caught on, a few pairs were released into the wild and quickly spread over most of the East, where they thrived by supplanting the sparrow population. Today, ornithologists estimate U.S. house-finch numbers at more than one billion.

House finches are vegetarians. While the female sits on the eggs (this one fled when I intruded with the camera, chattering angrily from a neighboring sugar maple), her mate continually flies in to feed her wild mustard, thistle, knotweed, poison oak, and other seeds, as well as cherries, pears, plums, strawberries, blackberries, and other fruits. One of her favorite snacks is dandelion seeds.

Now for the drama: This pair of house finches doesn' t know it, but they are raising someone else's baby.

At dawn a few days ago, a female brown-headed cowbird flew to the nest, and in less than a minute, deposited the brown-mottled egg. She may also have thrown out, or even eaten, one of the house-finch eggs.

Cowbirds are North America's most notorious brood parasites. They originally lived a nomadic life, feeding on insects and seeds stirred up by herds of bison. Today they have adapted to the American suburb, laying eggs in as many as 220 other species' nests.

Most of the cowbird's unwitting victims raise the intruder's young along with their own. Others push the foreign eggs out of the nest. Still others smother them with new layers of nesting material.

House finches do none of the above. Instead, they inadvertently foster an ornithological tragedy.

Both male and female finches feed the fledgeling cowbird the same as their own. But cowbirds aren't vegetarians—they need animal protein in their diet. Hence, although the baby cowbird usually hogs a lot of the food, it inevitably dies of malnutrition.

Now I am faced with a moral dilemma. Should I rid the nest of this cowbird egg before it hatches into a baby that steals food from its five nestmates, only to die in the end? Or should I let nature run its course without human interference? .

Download DietPower and lose poundsAbout this page: Precisely at noon each day, I step out of my office for a 3.5-mile walk around my Connecticut neighborhood. I carry a Panasonic Lumix DMC-TX5 pocket camera with a Leica 10x optical zoom lens. My object is to make an interesting photograph of at least one thing that is different that day. I post the results here, hoping they will inspire you and your friends to walk, too.  Terry Dunkle, DietPower founder and CEO.

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All My Yesterdays

Wednesday, May 20: An Old Friend Is Dying

Tuesday, May 19: Crow vs. Hawk

Monday, May 18: Yours Truly

Sunday, May 17: A Wild Geranium

Saturday, May 16: War Flowers

Friday, May 15: A Mysterious Barn

Thursday, May 14: Who Invented the Microscope?

Wednesday, May 13: The Kitchen Sink

Tuesday, May 12: Slow Down!

Monday, May 11: What Lilacs Are For

Sunday, May 10: Mama Butterfly

Saturday, May 9: Gone to Seed

Friday, May 8: A Pack of Boston Terriers

Thursday, May 7: Underground Passage

Wednesday, May 6: White Violet

Tuesday, May 5: Singing His Heart Out

Monday, May 4: Kenny's Secret

Sunday, May 3: Monument to an Afternoon

Saturday, May 2: Gasoline Rainbow

Friday, May 1: The Duck and the Bashful Maiden

Thursday, April 30: A Poison Ivy Sandwich

Wednesday, April 29: The Very Picture of Spring

Tuesday, April 28: A Busy Bumblebee

Monday, April 27: Electric Pink

Sunday, April 26: Saturday Night Special

Saturday, April 25: An Old Oak Falls

Friday, April 24: How an Ant Sees a Daffodil

Thursday, April 23: The Nameless Brook

Wednesday, April 22: Weeding Time

Tuesday, April 21: Wet Apple Buds

Monday, April 20: Mr. Allen and the Crew Team

Sunday, April 19: Bloodroot II

Saturday, April 18: Green Jellybeans

Friday, April 17: Bloodroot

Thursday, April 16: Skunk Cabbage III

Wednesday, April 15: Find the Critter

Tuesday, April 14: Blessing of the Animals

Monday, April 13: The Crow Who Said "Wow!"

Sunday, April 12: A Quirky Church

Saturday, April 11: Self-Portrait in a Pothole

Friday, April 10: Easter flowers

Thursday, April 9: Dumb as a Squirrel

Wednesday, April 8: April Snow

Tuesday, April 7: Egg Trees, Connecticut Style

Monday, April 6: I Carry My Lunch

Sunday, April 5: A Tree in Spring

Saturday, April 4: Pigs with Drivers Licenses

Friday, April 3: Forsythia

Thursday, April 2: Skunk Cabbage II

Wednesday, April 1: Mystery of the Hanging Shoes

Tuesday, March 31: Downy Woodpecker

Monday, March 30: 300-Year-Old House

Sunday, March 29: The Broken Fence

Saturday, March 28: "You're Such a Delight"

Friday, March 27: Skunk Cabbage

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