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Bad Parents

June 28, 2010

During a recent trip I was lucky enough to see a Black Bear up close. While I took pictures, a family stopped and brought their toddlers over to the bear despite my objections. I don’t have kids of my own yet, but I know bears and kids don’t mix.

Humans have perfected the art of bad parenting. Balloon Boy and the teenager who attempted to sail solo around the world are famous examples, but how often do you see wildlife make bad decisions?

It’s a boring name for a beautiful bird but the Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) has a distinct red shield above the bill that make them easy to spot in the wetlands of Florida. Moorhen chicks are a tasty morsel for just about everything including Snapping Turtles, Large-mouth Bass and Alligators. This explains why moorhens lay an average of eight eggs per brood and why both parents tend to their young until they are fully grown. It’s a tough job and I’ve seen a brood of eight dwindle down to two in a matter of days. Mom and dad want to make sure at least one survives.

I watched this happy family bobbing about on a lake in Weston, Florida. The six birds paddled about, feeding on insects and seeds. One of the adults veered off on its own while the other herded the chicks. When one little bird found itself away from the group, the parent herding the brood darted over, rounded the little ones up and made an audible and seemingly angry peep to its partner.

I can’t tell a male from a female moorhen, but since I enjoy anthropomorphication, I will assume the wayward adult bird was the father. (I’ve seen enough fathers stray off to the automotive section, while their kids turn the toy aisle into Wrigley Field to know which parent to stereotype as irresponsible.)

The mother, having grouped her young ones in the cattails, ran across the lily pads to her partner and pecked him ferociously on the back of the head. They both returned to their hatchlings and resumed foraging for lunch. The goal is survival and for moorhens cooperation is required. The consequences range from a small family tree to severe neck injury. It’s probably best to pay attention.

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