This summer we have lost nests to logging, cows, and natural junco predators. None of those shocked me. A pinecone as death-dealer, however, was a surprise.
When I took this picture, I thought that this nest was dead. The chick you see was completely motionless and stone cold. The pinecone—which was not supposed to be in the nest—had (we think) prevented the female from warming her chicks up, and without their mother’s warmth these very young, naked chicks quickly got too cold.
But when I took the pinecone out to count chick bodies, one of the bodies moved. My field assistant and I took the chicks—there were three, all as cold as the morning mountaintop air—in our warm hands. I still thought they were probably dead: recently dead things may twitch when disturbed.
But as the tiny bodies began to feel less chilly, they squirmed more and more.
When they were as fully warmed as we could manage (human body temperature is lower than that of birds), we put them back in the nest—minus the pinecone!—and retreated. The female had been angrily chipping at us as we revived her chicks, so we knew she had not yet abandoned the nest.
I had heard that very young chicks may be able to survive periods of cold, but had never seen it firsthand. It was truly a unique experience. I have encountered a lot of motionless, cold animals, and never before had one come back to life in my hand.
When we most recently checked the nest, all three chicks had grown and there was no sign of their brush with pinecone death.