by Lilianne Fuller
The little fellow showed up early one morning in August. He was foraging on the ground with a flock of Dark-Eyed Juncos. As my husband Topher walked by on the cement path, he stayed on the ground while his companions fled into the trees. Instead, he followed Topher on his way into the shed. We were clearing some brush for a small seating area in our backyard among the trees and every day, as Topher worked, the small spotted bird followed him like a faithful little dog.
I had searched my Birds of Southwestern British Columbia but couldn’t identify him. I took a picture and posted it on Facebook. Someone suggested that he could be a Sparrow of some type and he certainly looked the part with his speckles and markings. He did not seem to fly and remained on the ground eating bugs and seeds and he seemed to prefer the company of the Juncos.
Days went by and the little guy became more and more friendly. At one point, it hopped on Topher’s shoulder and went for a ride around the inside of the shed. We wondered what kind of a bird this could be and thought that perhaps it had fallen from a nearby nest. We weren’t sure it could fly until one day when we accidently startled it, it flew up into a tree. So, we knew that tame as it was, the little bird would be safe from predators.
As it became more friendly, I wondered if it was possible for a bird to imprint on a human being. I contacted Al Grass. Al has worked for over 30 years as a Park Naturalist all over the province and is an ornithologist (bird expert). He told me that, in his experience, this was not the case. But he added that a person could be quite flattered to be chosen by a small creature as a friend. And, indeed, I agree!
However, I still wanted to find out more about this strange occurrence. By now the bird was following us across the street for a happy-hour visit with our elderly neighbours. Also, we had to watch our steps because it was always underfoot whenever we were outside. It seemed to want to remain close to us.
I sent a picture to Gareth Pugh, an avid birder with the Langley Field Naturalists and he promptly identified it as a juvenile Cowbird. He explained that cowbirds lay their eggs in other birds’ nests. When the eggs hatch, the baby birds are usually the same size as each other but as they mature, they become bigger than their nest mates and usually get tossed from the nest. This cowbird was mature enough to survive and it still considered itself to be a Dark-Eyed Junco. That was why it foraged on the ground among them. Unfortunately, it was shunned by its own feathered friends, so it sought out a different kind of a ‘friend’ for companionship. And that friend turned out to be Topher.
One morning, the little bird must have heard the call of the wild. We watched as it flew away across the street and into a large grove of cedar trees to the north. Hopefully, the little creature was off to find one of its own kind for companionship. But while it lasted, it was quite lovely to have a tiny speckled bird as a friend.
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