The Munchkin

In zoos, we strive to keep the animal’s lives as close to natural as possible. This includes letting them raise their own offspring. But sometimes, circumstances arise that require human intervention. In mammals, a mother might not produce enough milk, or might reject her babies, or the baby might require veterinary care. In birds, the parents might not sit on their eggs enough, or they might not know how to feed the chicks. Whatever the reason, zookeepers occasionally have to become animal parents. This year in the bird department, we had quite a few babies to hand-raise. The first round of chicks came from the Azure Wing Magpies. They didn’t sit on their eggs properly, requiring them to be placed in an artificial incubator. The second round came from the Green Naped Pheasant Pigeons. Our female has always been a bit… odd. She’s always in the way and under the keeper’s feet but she doesn’t want attention. She got attacked by a bird less than half her size and lost sight in one eye. And she abandons her eggs very shortly after they are laid, so they have to be artificially incubated as well. Then, there came the third round of eggs from the African Pygmy Falcons. These guys have a bad habit of making their eggs disappear. Since they are carnivorous birds, we’re pretty sure what ends up happening to them. Again, the eggs have to be artificially incubated and the chicks raised by keepers.

When we have baby birds to feed, the bird keepers take turns being responsible for them. They get fed and cleaned up after at the zoo during the day and then taken home by a keeper to be feed through the evening. Thankfully, very few have to be fed through the night. One coworker who shared in these responsibilities would often call the baby birds “munchkin” and I’ve picked up that habit. We all have come to know that when someone says “I’ve got the munchkin tonight,” we mean we are taking the chick home with us.

I have the munchkin tonight. It is a baby Pygmy Falcon and he’s totally adorable. He basically looks like a tiny, white, fuzzy version of Sam Eagle from the Muppets. When it comes time for a feeding — about every 3-4 hours — like many baby birds, he sits up very straight in the nest, opens his mouth wide, and makes an insistent peeping sound. This is what we call a feeding response. In the wild, it would be a reaction to the parent returning to the nest after finding food, and it is often a competition between nestlings to be the most forceful beggar and get the most attention from mom or dad. With the baby Pygmy Falcon being raised by the keepers, it makes it easy for us to simply place food in his mouth with a pair of tweezers.

Pygmy Falcon Chick

I came home from church tonight and went straight to feeding the chick when I was suddenly struck by a comparison between the baby bird and my Life Group lesson on the Beatitudes. In Matthew 5:6, Jesus says, “Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are blessed, for they will be filled.” The teacher reminded us that this isn’t a physical hunger or thirst, but a spiritual one. It should be our desire to be filled with God’s righteousness, His holiness, His mercy, His glory, His joy. Too often, I’m more concerned with my physical hunger than my spiritual hunger. I need to be more like the munchkin, looking up to God and saying “Feed me! Feed me! Feed me!”

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