Birdy family life continues

A female house finch posed artistically before stuffing this twig into her new nest. Photo by © Maria de Bruyn.


By Maria de Bruyn

Last month, I focused on the start of the birds’ breeding season; it is now well underway in our area. One of the most entertaining pairs I’ve watched are house finches. I hung a gourd on my front porch in the hope some birds might use it. The finches were quite quick to take possession. Mom seemed a bit perturbed when I sat in my chair a few feet away, so I moved the gourd down the porch a bit and now she is ok with my presence — though she does keep an eye on me!

Since mom finished creating the nest — with some help from dad — she leaves from time to time and the pair meets up in the willow oak or serviceberry tree in my front yard. She leaves to go to the feeders, but her mate also brings her treats as she has been brooding eggs.

In the third week of April, I got the impression that mama finch was now tending babies. When she left, I quickly got on a ladder and held a camera over the gourd. As I took a few quick shots, mom perched on a feeder watching me closely. I got down quickly and left her and dad to it as they brought in meals for the newborns. It appears there are two hatchlings and at least one remaining egg.

Top left: gourd hung for nest. Top right: Male and female house finches bringing nesting material. Bottom left: male feeding female outside the nest. Bottom right: newly hatched baby finches and as yet unhatched egg.  All photos by © Maria de Bruyn.

Purple martins are another species that will make devoted use of man-made nests.. A martin nesting box was installed in Durham by the local Audubon Society and the residents arrived back from migration a couple weeks ago. It’s entertaining to watch them swooping and cavorting in the air as they fly after insects.

Top left: five of six resident martins at the house. Top right: female and male pair. Bottom left and right: male martin bringing female food.  All photos by © Maria de Bruyn.

The mourning doves have been canoodling. They do this in full view of everyone, but I’ve yet to see one of their nests near my home. The tufted titmice are opportunistic nesters, using nest boxes, tree cavities, fence posts and pipes.

The birds who nest in holes in snags and tree trunks have been quite busy. Those who choose to make new nest holes have their work cut out. It takes a good amount of time to hack out the round opening and remove mouthfuls of shredded bark. The red-bellied woodpecker was very hard at work.

Top left: mourning doves. Top right: tufted titmouse gathering nesting material. Bottom left and right: red-bellied woodpecker creating new nest hole. All photos by © Maria de Bruyn

The first fledglings I’ve seen this year were two bald eaglets. In early March, the parents were still chasing away immature eagles, ospreys and other birds from the vicinity of the nest. By the end of that month, I finally saw the nest where the young were busy preening and removing downy feathers. They were perched outside the nest on April 5, when a birding friend saw them.

Bald eagle fledgling almost ready to leave the nest. Photo by © Maria de Bruyn.

The female birds need a good deal of calcium to lay viable eggs. We can help them get enough by putting out eggshells for them. At my home, a stump with crushed bits of eggshell has become a popular station for both larger birds such as Northern cardinals and smaller species like Carolina chickadees. If you have boiled eggs, you can also crush the shells and offer the birds a useful treat.

If you want to see more photos of the birds above and some other nesting species, check out my blog. I’d love to hear about your bird sightings, too (e.g., in the comments below).

Maria de Bruyn participates in several nature-oriented citizen science projects, volunteers at Mason Farm Biological Reserve, the Orange County Senior Center and EcoEXPLORE, and coordinates a nature-themed book club (which would welcome new members). She posts on Instagram ( and writes a blog about wildlife at

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