THE WILD SIDE
Guest Column by Maria de Bruyn
Springtime is now in full swing and we can see the signs when we look around as we walk outdoors, especially if we pay attention to the avian life around us. The birds are busy with different phases of their life cycle. Some are still courting mates and the first thing the males do is sing for prospective partners.
The males of some species feed the females choice tidbits in order to win their favor. This is a behavior we see, for example, among Northern cardinals and American crows.
In other cases, like the red-headed woodpeckers, several males may chase one another away from a female until one gets the chance to be with her alone for a short time.
Some birds are still busy building and furnishing their nests. You may see birds collecting or carrying nesting material as they fly by or perch on a tree limb. For example, blue-gray gnatcatchers collect spider web that helps hold their nest together but allows it to expand as the baby birds grow. Carolina chickadees like to use mammal hair to line their nests, along with moss. Other birds, like Eastern bluebirds and American crows, use twigs and leaves to create a temporary home for their young.
Other birds nest in tree snags, either using holes created in past years or excavating new ones, as I saw two sets of brown-headed nuthatches doing. Woodpeckers like this Northern flicker also use tree holes.
The next step is egg brooding and quite a few birds are busy with this phase now. Both male and female pileated woodpeckers sit on the eggs and help feed the young. If you are lucky, you may catch them changing places so that each parent gets a break from parental duties now and then. If you look carefully, you might spot a blue-gray gnatcatcher’s nest with a parent sitting in the beautiful little cup, which is decorated on the outside with lichen.
A number of birds are already feeding their young. Many people have already seen Eastern bluebird babies being fed and fledging (leaving the nest). Owls nest early in the year and the young are now “branching” like this baby great horned owl. (Branching is when the babies leave the nest and sit on tree limbs until their feathers develop enough for them to begin flight.)
In species where the young are immediately mobile, as is the case for ducklings, the mothers have their wings full as they guide their large families to food sources while trying to protect them from danger, like snapping turtles. (Land-bound babies can fall prey to snakes, some other bird species and mammals.)
Once their current offspring can forage for food on their own, several bird species will have a second and even third brood this coming summer. So you can keep watching for newly formed families as the weeks progress.
Hopefully, many of you reading this have been able to get out in nature the last month and you may have seen some of the birds active with these springtime duties. If you haven’t had that pleasure yet, you can also take a look at some of theonline bird cams which are now showing eggs hatching and parents feeding the nestlings (e.g., (https://www.allaboutbirds.org/cams/ – check out the Savannah ospreys!)
I hope you enjoy your walks while continuing to social distance by stepping to one side of trails and pathways (in single file) when you pass other walkers rather than marching down the middle of paths. And do consider intensifying or taking up some new activities that can honor the recent 50th anniversary of Earth Day that we celebrated on 22 April. You can find some ideas at this website: https://blog.nwf.org/2020/04/50-ways-to-love-wildlife-wherever-you-are-this-earth-day/
Maria de Bruyn participates in several bird-focused citizen science projects, volunteers at Mason Farm Biological Reserve, and writes a blog focusing on wildlife at https://mybeautifulworldblog.com