It’s Mother’s Day and a time to celebrate moms of all kinds - including those with feathers. I was fortunate recently to see a mom with three babies that are a rare sight in the bird world.
While walking down a path in a local wetland area, I spotted what looked like a rabbit sitting quietly at the side of the trail. I looked through my binoculars and saw that this bunny had a beak, and, amazingly, was a not a rabbit but a Virginia Rail.
Was it sick, I wondered? To see this shy, secretive bird sitting in the open away from the protective cattails of the pond didn’t seem right. All of a sudden, however, the rail stood up and I noticed a black puffball emerge – and then slowly, two others joined the mom and sibling from the nearby vegetation.
She didn’t seem afraid of me, but two people were coming down the path talking loudly and this scared her. She ran across the path to the other side, leaving her little ones to scramble into the bushes behind them.
I worried that they would be separated, but after the couple left, I heard her doing her grunt call back on the side with the chicks. To my amazement, they all came out again and I was able to photograph them. Finally, for some reason, she really wanted to lead them to the other side of the path, so she darted across and the little balls of down made an attempt to follow, peeping all the way. They finally made it across and I could hear her talking to them as they moved away sight unseen in the dense underbrush.
I thought about all the dangers these chicks will face from predators – river otters, weasels, coyotes, and even other birds like Great Blue Herons. Since Virginia Rails can have up to 13 eggs, perhaps some of the siblings were already eaten and this was a reason the mother led them away from the pond.
I wished the little family luck, grateful that our paths had crossed.