A cosy cradle of concrete

The birds fly down to the underground parking through this large opening, which is also used as the way out by the fledglings.

For a couple days, an adult male and a female black redstart have been flying down to my building’s underground parking with food in their beak. I investigated and found out they are nesting there. I am sure that these two birds are the parents of Apache, Spot and Ring, the friendly chicks that visited my feeding station for three weeks. Now that the parents are raising a new clutch, the fledglings from the first clutch are moving away from their birth site to makeroom.

Yesterday morning, the adult female went frantic as I walked passed the parking’s ventilation opening (see above photo). She jumped around and nervously chirped a tap dance punctuated by short whistles, black redstarts’ typical alarm call. As I glanced down through the opening, a fledgling stared back at me from one edge of the beige concrete wall, three meters underground. It looked apathetic in contrast with its hysterical mother and I wondered how it would gather the strength to fly up to the opening.

The nest sits in a corner of the concrete parking and I counted four little grey heads inside (the photo below was taken later on). The young birds were perfectly still and awaited food in silence.

However, at present all their mother’s attention was directed at her first fledgling who needed instructions to manage the challenging vertical flight to the outside world. For what seemed like a very long time, the mother kept calling and flying up and down the opening to show her languid fledgling the way out. After a few failed attempts, the young bird succeeded and landed on the outside edge of the opening where it remained for another eternity despite his mother’s calls for another move to a safer spot. At last, the chick vanished in the vegetation.

This was around 1pm, time for a break.

The garage was busy with people when I returned a few hours later and only one chick remained in the nest. The others were perched on cars and plastic pipes inside the parking. What a strange environment for young birds, one made of concrete walls, metal and plastic parts, and filled with nothing but artificial light and noise!

Yet, it is not by chance if black redstarts thrive near concrete structures in urban environments. In the wilderness, the birds typically live in rocky, sparsely vegetated habitats, especially on hills and mountains. They nest in cliff crevasses, gullies and other stony sites. In cities, a concrete parking is as good as it gets: it feels rocky and the many shades of grey provide good camouflage to the birds whose plumage ranges from light grey to coal black in adult males. Black redstarts are also commonly found at industrial and power sites, railways and warehouses, and prefer perching on tile roofs and brick walls rather than trees.

The chicks remained underground for hours and two of them spent the night inside the parking. The mother seemed concerned about this because she kept calling them out from inside the parking until 10:30 pm, a late night for a black redstart—normal sleep time is around 8-9 pm at this time of year.

Black redstart fledglings

Two of the chicks this morning. Credit: Yalakom

One cannot help wondering how such a tiny being can possess so much energy, especially without help from her mate who made no appearance the whole time I was watching. Raising chicks sure is a trying exercise for breeding birds.

This morning, all chicks had left the parking and two of them chose a metallic ventilation grid for their early stretching and preening, why not!

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