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The wonders of child- and parenthood

How birds nurture their offspring to adulthood has long fascinated those fond with nature. Discover more about the journey of different species as they grow from chicks to adults.

Text and images by HIH Princess Takamado

Giving birth and raising a child is certainly hard work, but alongside this, it also brings a series of small ‘miracles’. There are many wonders and discoveries throughout the process of growing up from an infant, that include many peaks and valleys for both parents and children.

When observing birds, you notice that each has its own individuality and personality, and we often become emotionally involved when seeing parent birds, especially as they take care of their eggs or raise their young.

In this issue, I have selected a series of photos of various birds, both as chicks and as they parent, and have written captions describing each of the birds’ unique situations and stories.

The size shown is the total length of the adult bird, not the chick. Please enjoy the photos that illuminate the magical stories behind these birds, as they grow from innocent chicks to adults that stand on their own.

English translation of an article originally featured in ‘Through the Lens’, Fujingaho Magazine, October 2022. The article was also a contribution to Kodomo Magazine, a Pictorial Magazine for kids.

Ural Owl (Strix uralensis) – 50cm – Family: Strigidae

The chick looked at me, as if to say,” What are you doing?”. It’s been about 30 days since it hatched and having just left the nest, its white fluffy feathers and dull black eyes are adorable.  After leaving the nest, for a while the parents will watch over their chicks closely during the day to prevent them from being attacked by crows and other natural predators. After three months, the chicks become independent and move away from their parents’ territory.

Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) – 61cm –Family: Ardeidae

On the left is the parent bird, its long feathers on the back of its head only seen during the breeding season.

The chicks on the right are begging for more food, and the parent is about to fly off again to catch them some.  Chicks from the Ardeidae Family are fiercely hungry, and in this instance, so eager to eat it’s as if they are almost ready to eat the heads of their parents.

You can almost hear the parents’ sighing, “Oh dear ……”.

Japanese Sparrowhawk (Accipiter gularis) – Males – 27cm, Females – 30cm – Family: Accipitridae

In Japan, Japanese Sparrowhawk is the smallest species in the Accipitridae family. The chick in this photograph is about 2 weeks old. Although innocent, they still have the face of a true bird of prey. In the same nest, there were two more chicks that were slightly bigger and practising flapping their wings. When the chicks are small, males bring small birds to the nest and females tear them up and feed them to their chicks.

Black-crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) – 58cm – Family: Ardeidae

It’s time for them to be on their own! This parent bird was calmly watching over its young from a distance. However, as soon as the young birds start begging for food, the parents immediately become alarmed. Even so, the young birds went “Please feed me”, shaking their wings and closing the gap between them.  This photo shows a young bird hurriedly jumping away from the parent bird after being punished for being too pushy.  

The white Little Egret, standing still and uninterested amongst the others is also young.

Barnacle Goose (Branta leucopsis) – 65cm – Family: Anatidae

Photographed in Finland, this flock landed in a park near a city centre early in the morning, where they scattered and started grazing. This photo shows a group of geese with three- to four-week-old chicks returning to the sea. In Greenland, they build nests on cliffs as high as 100 metres along the coast to avoid foxes and other predators.  It is well known that their chicks, which have just hatched and cannot yet fly, are encouraged by their parents to jump for their lives off these cliffs for their first flight.

Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis) – 26cm – Family: Podicipedidae

Little Grebes breeds annually in the Akasaka Imperial Estate. Pairs build nests that float on the surface of the water to lay their eggs, which are taken care of by both the male and female. Once the chicks leave the nest with their parents shortly after hatching, they do not return. This photograph shows the chicks on the seventh day after hatching. Although they are good swimmers, they still often ride on the backs of their parents. To feed them, parents catch and bring small fish and aquatic insects, and the chicks improve their diving with each passing day. I almost applauded when one caught an insect a few days later!

Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus) – 130cm – Family: Phoenicopteridae

Greater Flamingos at sunset in the Camargue region, France.

These Greater Flamingo chicks are small and covered with grey feathers. While still in the nest, they are nurtured by drinking flamingo milk – also known as crop milk – produced by their parents. About 10 weeks after they hatch, the chicks become independent from their parents. For a month or so, they stay in a group called a crèche, as shown in this photograph. While I was photographing them, the parent birds returned one after another. It is thought that offspring and parents identify each other by their voice.