Full-fledged Pest Controllers

by Harlan Eby | Jun 2, 2022 | 0 comments

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. Photo © Kevin Shank.

One sunny late spring morning Mr. Gray, the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, hopped cheerfully about in the lush green bushes and trees on Oasis Ranch. His sunshiny world was as right as it could be, and his belly was full of juicy worms and insects. When he spied what he was looking for, a soft, downy feather lying on the ground, he hastily flitted down. Snatching it up, he flew to where his mate, Mrs. Joyful, was just placing a bit of fuzzy white rabbit fur in the cup of their inconspicuous nest. He carefully placed the feather on the nest and flew away. This time he found a sticky wisp of spider web, which he carefully placed over the feather and fur.

The next day the pair was a trifle worried by the appearance of a fourteen-year-old boy. They need not have worried. He was here for a reason different than Mr. Swift, the American Kestrel, or Hisser, the bull snake. He was here to enjoy watching them raise more insect eaters.

After painstakingly searching for weeks, Mrs. Joyful had found the perfect place for her incubator, a 10-foot (3-m) tree in the middle of a clearing. The nest was settled on a limb that was 6 feet (2 m) above the ground and sheltered by the long tangling fingers of a thicket creeper.

Eleven days later, Mrs. Joyful laid her first pale-blue red-spotted egg. Fourteen days after completing the nest, she had four eggs. She and Mr. Gray took turns incubating the eggs. One would sit on the nest while the other went out and foraged for food—juicy gnats and mosquitoes and plump insect larvae—all the while twittering their high-pitched, wheezy squeak.

After thirteen days of incubation, a small tapping noise began inside an egg. After half an hour of tapping, the egg cracked, first a little, then a little more, and a little more. Finally the little jackhammer—a ball of wet skin and down—struggled out. After drying, it looked more like a newly hatched bird than a soaked sponge. In another day, two more hatched, but after five days, the fourth egg was shoved out of the nest. It was rotten.

Then the real work began. It is no exaggeration that thousands of trips were made for food. Then at night, Mrs. Joyful would sit on the nest while Mr. Gray settled on a branch for a much-needed rest.

One day the chicks became tired of the nest and decided to go out on their own. One after the other they fluttered to the ground, landing with soft plunks. Suddenly Mrs. Joyful’s heart jumped. She saw a hawk soaring overhead! Giving a warning cry, she went up to attack it with Mr. Gray close behind. A robin took up the chase also until they had chased away the intruder. Then they flew triumphantly back to their nest. In several more days, the fledglings were fluttering about and becoming full-fledged pest controllers.

Mr. Gray and Mrs. Joyful hopped carefreely about again, cheerfully chirping and uttering their high, wheezy squeaks until it was time to migrate to the warm South where they would take a much-needed rest.

Browse Categories

Help Your Family Explore the Wonders of God's Creation

Full color magazine delivered to your door + digital access. Subscribe now for just $5 a month!

Buy Magazine: $5/month

Buy Magazine + Study Guide: $7.50/month

Buy Gift Subscription