Remember how OLLA and ALGE had three eggs? They’re not eggs any more!
When we checked the nest today we found three nestlings. My goal was to absolutely minimize the disturbance to chicks and parents, so the plan was to remove two chicks, process them, return them to the nest and remove the third chick, then return her too. (Removing all three chicks at once would minimize the number of trips to/from the nest, but if the parents saw an empty nest they might—reasonably!—assume all the chicks had been eaten and abandon the nest.)
I did manage to follow that plan, but it was much more difficult than I expected, because it turns out that junco nestlings at this age have a very healthy flee-the-predator response! When I went to pick up two nestlings, all three of them took off in opposite directions in clumsy but speedy bounds. The parents dove in among them, guiding or herding them maybe, and adding to the chaos. I gathered the nestlings up, put one back in the nest and took the other two to be processed—where both of them called constantly to Mom and Dad, who called back. Mom and Dad were definitely saying something like “We’re here, escape to us!” because every time the chicks heard their parents they would try to bolt again.
It was impossible not to feel bad for causing such fright to parents and babies. I worked as quickly as possible and then put the first two, YAYN and BABY, back into their nest, which naturally they fled from. I scooped them back into the nest and held them there until they were content to stay.
With two nestlings in the nest instead of one, the parents were abruptly fine. Perhaps two nestlings looks close enough to three for a junco? I was glad that OLLA and ALGE could relax, but felt a bit bad for the third nestling, MAYO, who apparently they didn’t miss!
I put MAYO back in the nest and got out of there as fast as I could. I probably won’t be able to see these guys up close again until they fledge: they’re so eager to escape that it’s too risky to bother them any more, especially as they get closer to actual fledging age.
I’m thrilled that they’ve survived so far! OLLA and ALGE seem like very determined parents, which is promising. And the chicks certainly know what to do in case of a predator! It’s interesting, given their run-away response, to note that their wings and tails are still very underdeveloped but their legs are adult-sized. It may be that they focus energy on the legs first so that they will have a means of escape sooner; flight is tricky and I imagine it would take longer to develop than clumsy running.
I’m looking forward to seeing YAYN, BABY, and MAYO in their gawky fledgling stage next.