Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Birth (infancy) (08/20/09)
TITLE: Eggzactly Perfect
By Patricia Herchenroether
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Cockatiels, native to Australia, are popular pets known for their energy, friendliness, and comic antics. I got my first pair from a young man who said the two were bonded but wouldn’t, or couldn’t, breed. That was fine with me; I just wanted a couple of cute, perky birds. After I took “Patch” and “Prissy” home and got them settled in, it didn’t take long to realize their bond was made in super-glue.
Perched together, they preened each other from stem to stern (make that beak to tail), encouraged by little chirps I translated into “oohs” and “ahhs.” After reciprocal grooming they indulged in a game of follow-the-leader. If Patch went to the water dish, Prissy was suddenly thirsty. When Prissy needed a snack, Patch became ravenous. They bathed together in a one-bird tub. Yawning was obviously contagious, as was nodding off. They synchronized the art of one-legged roosting, first left, then right.
One day I heard a long series of single cheeps, voiced in a distinctively rhythmic pattern. Curious, I went to the other room, where I noted that the Australians had discovered yet another new game. Hmm, time to consult a different chapter of the cockatiel book. Off to the pet shop for supplements and other paraphernalia.
The honeymooners inspected their new nest box and apparently found it to their liking. About two weeks after they set up housekeeping, I noticed an unusual amount of flurry around the box. Lifting up the hinged roof, I was delighted to see a small, white egg lying on top of the nesting material. Wow. God’s perfect little incubator.
Prissy continued to lay eggs, one every two days, until there was a clutch of five. Brooding commenced about three days after the first egg was laid and both parents shared the responsibility in twelve-hour shifts. There were no sexual preferences here-cockatiels clearly adhere to equal opportunity standards. The brooding period is normally a restful, quiet time for birds, allowing them to store up resources for the trial ahead. They would need all the strength they could get for round-the-clock feedings. Their human friend could only offer a peaceful room and special nourishment.
The adults diligently cared for the precious eggs; turning them, supplying warmth as needed, and putting aside the eggs that needed cooling. I watched the developing embryos by candling, holding an egg in front of bright light to see inside the translucent shell. The earliest sign of fertility had the appearance of a web, veins running in all directions with a blob set in the center like a spider. The blob, an embryo, grew in size each day, until it filled the egg perfectly.
In advanced stages, the peeping chicks could actually be heard inside the eggs. Patch and Prissy, of course, had been conducting conversations with their babies long before my human ear could pick up the chicks’ side of the nest box heart-to-hearts. Those ties were already secure, even before the parents and babies set eyes on each other. Would God have made that special pre-natal relationship any less binding for humans?
The first baby started to pip at twenty days, using a special egg-tooth grown for that purpose. At first, a tiny crack appeared near the rounded end of the egg. Little by little, the chick extended the crack around the circumference until it made a complete circle. The parents grew more excited as the little squeaks got louder. Pipping can take anywhere from a few hours up to thirty or more, depending on individual circumstances. Unlike humans, however, baby birds don’t have help from Mom’s muscles for final entry into the world. The job is entirely up to them-a most incredible task, considering the workers who perform it.
I clocked the first chick, to whom I later gave the ignoble name of “One,” at nineteen hours. Hookbill hatchlings are about the ugliest babies in the world-scrawny necks, organs visible through nearly transparent, naked skin, bulging closed eyes. Typical “only-a-mother-could-love” products. But when “One” finally popped out, with red-pink skin and a head too heavy to lift up (How in the world did he crack that egg?), all I could see was a beautiful, living creature. Here was the awesome result of an idea hatched by The Lord Himself. Perfect.
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