Writing in the time of COVID-19: Day Forty Six

I woke this morning smiling, because the first thing I heard was the screech of shama chicks. They’d survived the night. But the screeching has changed. And not just because I suddenly like the sound. Their vocalizations are changing, still as insistent as ever but not so much like twisting steel in a train wreck. I suppose their little vocal cords are maturing.

Wait. Do birds have vocal cords? According to Science magazine, they do. And unlike the larynx that humans, reptiles, and amphibians possess, birds have a unique voice box known as a syrinx that’s located deep within their chests where the windpipe splits to go into the two lungs. Larynx and syrinx rely on different muscles to work. They’re also made from different cellular materials. In birds, the syrinx is supported by rings of muscle to enable complex sounds. What’s more, not only do birds have a set of vocal cords, they actually have two. This is what allows them to produce two different sounds simultaneously. It would be as if poet Joy Harjo could play a saxophone and flute duet at the same time. Kinda. The dual sound system allows birds to sing continuously for extended periods of time; a skylark, for example, for up to 18 minutes nonstop. Oh, and by the way, birds do not sing only when exhaling.

So, birds are cool, eh?

20200504 Shama ChickAs soon as I hit publish last night, the fledgling outside my office window up and flew to some palms across the entirety of the front yard. “Whoa,” I said out loud. The chick had certainly bested any flights it had attempted all afternoon. Papa shama was nearby, so I figured he’d snuggle up with the fledging overnight while mama shama went back to the nest with the other chick(s).

Relieved of my watch-keeping duties, I went to the kitchen to make dinner.

As the sun set and darkness settled, I was at the kitchen sink when I heard the tell-tale call of a shama chick outside the window. What? The kitchen is at the opposite end of the house from where my office is located. Was there another nest on this side of the yard? And another fledgling? Or had the earlier fledgling suddenly figured out how wings worked?

“Be right back,” I said to Eric, and out the door I went.

Sure enough, there was a fledgling sitting on the ground at the base of our plumeria tree. It just sat there staring up at me. They don’t move like baby chickens. Whereas baby chickens are hatched precocial, able to walk and feed themselves almost immediately, white-rumped shama chicks are naked and blind. They spend the next couple weeks just sitting in their nests waiting for their feathers to grow in and for mom and dad to swing by with a squiggling worm or some other tasty tidbit. They don’t exactly know what to do with their bodies.

This little fledgling, whether the same one or another, next flitted up to a branch in the plumeria tree and over to a fence post.

“I’m glad I mowed last night,” I said to Eric when I came back inside. In taller grass, it would have been so easy to miss these little cuties sitting on the ground, unsure how to make their next move, much less figure out what the heck to do about a green and yellow John Deere riding mower bearing down on it.

After dinner, it started raining and the first thing I thought was, That’s not good for the fledging. How will it stay warm?

Today while enjoying my morning tea with trees, I stood in one spot and listened. I would have sworn I heard three shama fledglings. But when I walked in the direction of one sound, the sound moved, and I didn’t see anything fly about. Can these birds with their unique syrinx throw their voices?

By mid-morning the chicks and fledgling(s) were silent. No screeching metal and no song from papa or mama shama. In fact, I didn’t see hide nor feather of any of them all day. So, I just took a stroll down the property and found them. I wonder if white-rumped shama are like some other birds—when the chicks are mobile, the parents move them away from their nest site. It’s a survival strategy to evade predators.

The island feels a little similar. Now that a few restrictions have been lifted, more and more people are heading out, exploring more. I may be next.


Hawaii’s statewide tally rose by four today to 625. Kauai’s count is still at 21.

Be well.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Anne C. says:

    A nice thing about sheltering-in-place: you can keep an eye on your home turf. And in this case, monitor the moment-by-moment changes of the new young life. It’s fun to read about. I bet it’s heaps of fun to experience in full sight and sound.


    1. Kim Steutermann Rogers says:

      I’m re-connecting with my home turf in ways I haven’t for years!


  2. diane tilley says:

    A few years ago I hosted a family of sweet wrens and took great joy in hearing them chatter amongst themselves and watched as the chicks started to stick their heads out of the wren house and eventually begin to learn to fly. I had 3 wren houses up and they seem to use all 3 of them in some way. perhaps it was to confuse their predators. Today I seem to have a robin;s nest nearby as there is constant adult activity near the roof. I will keep a close eye on things.


    1. Kim Steutermann Rogers says:

      I grew up with robins. Loved them! Let me know how they do, please.


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