On July 14, 2017, I found a family of common gallinules (Gallinula galeata) settling in for the night among broken reeds at the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge. Their chosen spot may appear uncomfortable to our eyes, but at least four chicks seemed happy enough to disappear under their mother’s protective feathers.
For the rest of that summer and throughout 2018, I hoped for another glimpse of the young birds (sometimes called moorhens, or marsh hens). Adults were plentiful, but any babies remained well hidden within the ponds’ vegetation. Finally, last Sunday, I discovered a mother and seven chicks busily feeding and exploring the world.
At first glance, I thought the chicks were contortionists, and that the bits of red near their wings were feet or legs. Instead, newly hatched gallinule chicks have ‘spurs’ on their wings that help them climb into the nest or capture vegetation. Able to swim within a day of hatching, they still need a little help with life on the land, and the spurs function admirably.
The floating vegetation may not seem appetizing to us, but it clearly appealed to the birds, who spent the better part of an hour cruising the buffet table.
With chicks swimming every which way, it wasn’t easy to get a photo of the group, but this pair came fairly close, and stopped their foraging long enough for a portrait.
Eventually, the mother had enough, and began leading her brood toward the other side of the pond. During the crossing, only six of her seven stayed close.
It’s common for every group of young mallards to have one straggler in the group: a baby who’s always too busy exploring to keep up with the family. At least in this instance, it was the same with the gallinules. This little one dawdled, until its mother began calling from the other side of the pond.
After some enthusiastic paddling, the straggler made the passage safely and, almost beyond reach of my camera, mother and chicks disappeared into the sheltering grasses. With luck, I’ll see them again before they’re teenagers.
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