On the whale-watching trip in Monterey Bay we were lucky enough to see not only humpback whales but also blue whales – the largest animal that has ever lived. The humpbacks and the blues both had calves with them. We had the happiness of seeing that these species were reproducing, and of glimpsing (barely) their maternal behavior.
A less glamorous species – small, dowdy, unremarked – was also displaying parental behavior. Here and there on the waves (oog, waves, where is that dramamine?) were twosomes of the Common Murre. (They're Uria aalge, and murre rhymes with purr. No y-sound.)
Murres live by catching fish. They dive beneath the surface and use their wings to fly underwater. Maybe it's something you have to practice doing to be good enough to make a living.
They're superbly formed for the life aquatic, but they must resort to land to raise a family. Murres nest in crowded colonies on rocky islets or coastal cliffs. A pair of murres raises a single chick a year, if they are lucky and things go well. Father and mother go to sea and bring fish back to the crowded screaming rookery.
Each chick shrieks at the top of its lungs, a piercing cry I translate as BABY'S HERE!!! BABY'S HERE!!! with maybe a touch of BABY'S HUNGRY!!! The adults recognize their child's scream, and bring fish to their own darling, and nobody else's.
When the chick is old enough it jumps off the rock. It can't fly yet, so it falls into the sea. And screams BABY'S HERE!!! The chick's father finds it there, attracted by his child's voice. The chick's mother does not appear. She's done her bit. She laid the damned egg, remember?
Father and child swim away, and travel together for a few weeks. It seems likely that the chick is learning how to make a living in the exacting murre profession, although it is also possible that it's simply under its father's protection while it matures. The two are good at staying together, aided by the cry that can be heard over crashing seas: DON'T FORGET BABY!!!
Occasionally a juvenile bird comes into a wildlife rehab center and it's desirable to put it in an outdoor pool as soon as possible, so it can be in its favored medium, practice swimming and diving, and so its earsplitting cries of BABY'S HERE!!! will have a less painful deafening effect.
Those saintly men. I am sure father murres love their chicks, take pleasure in their company, perhaps enjoy seeing them become more skilled. But there must be times, there must be, when they are tempted to scream back BABY SHUT UP!!!