Welcome the new birds, both migrants and babies!

Photo of male summer tanager by © Maria de Bruyn.


By Maria de Bruyn

As summer begins, we should be aware the avian breeding season is not over yet.

Some birds that arrived during spring migration are now engaged in courtship, preparing nests and brooding young, like the summer tanagers. Some of our year-round birds also continue nesting to produce second and even third broods.

Top left: gray catbird singing to attract a mate. Top right: great crested flycatcher collecting nest material. Bottom: blue-gray gnatcatcher (left) and pine warbler (right) plucking grass plume for nest.  All photos by © Maria de Bruyn.

Gray catbird males puff themselves up to impress the ladies in hopes of being chosen. Great crested flycatchers warble beautifully in between forays to bring grasses and twigs to new nests.

After the cattail fluff in my yard was depleted for nesting material, the pine warblers and gnatcatchers plucked soft strands of plumed grass for nest lining.

Top: Eastern bluebird driving away invading house wren. Bottom: blue-gray gnatcatcher (left) and ruby-throated hummingbird (right) on lichen-covered nests. All photos by © Maria de Bruyn.

As some of our year-round birds begin caring for their second broods, they must remain alert for threats. Eastern bluebirds are defending their new nest in my yard against house wrens. The blue-gray gnatcatchers have it a bit easier, building camouflaged lichen-covered cup nests that look like bigger versions of ruby-throated hummingbird nests.

Top: common grackles on the ground engaged in an unknown encounter. Bottom left immature red-bellied woodpecker. Bottom left: house finch fledgling. All photos by © Maria de Bruyn.

Sometimes you witness activity which is not entirely clear. On one of my walks, I was very startled when two common grackles plunged down from above landing a foot in front of me. They were large birds (12.5 inches) and thrashing about so I backed up quickly. They, too, were surprised by the fall and it was unclear whether they had been mating or were two males having an argument over territory.

Many of the fledged birds will look just like their parents but some will need to grow into their adult plumage. If you see a red-bellied woodpecker with no red on its head, that will be an immature bird. Newly fledged house finches have a few wispy “hairs” on their heads, but these soon disappear.

When you see birds carrying insects, worms or seeds, try to follow their flight and you may be able to see them feeding their babies. Do keep your distance from them as protective parents will guard their young. This is especially advisable in the case of larger birds.

Top left: barred owl fledgling in a tree. Top right: a hairdo that attracted a crow. Bottom left: mallard duckling maneuvering past trash in pond. Bottom right: young pileated woodpecker awaiting parent with food. All photos by © Maria de Bruyn.

One of my neighbors had the unfortunate experience of being attacked from behind when she apparently came too close to a barred owl baby who fell from a nest. She had bleeding talon marks on her head, which fortunately did not require sutures. If owls nest where you live or walk, it’s a good idea to wear a hat and keep your distance from any young if you know they are around.

My close friend Irma in Amsterdam just told me about a frightening experience she had the other day. As she took an early morning walk, she saw two crows. Suddenly one flew over and touched down atop her head! She waved her arms, and the bird fortunately took off. Her hairdo might have made the crow think it was a nest or good nesting material, but we don’t really know why the bird came to her. It just shows that you need to be prepared for unexpected bird behavior, especially during nesting season.

Visits to local ponds can reward you with views of young geese and ducks, even in areas where you might not expect them. Intrepid birds adjust to awful circumstances, like the mallard duckling above that is surviving in a trashed and depleted retention pond. The young pileated woodpecker in a nest hole high in a snag has it easier, just having to wait until mom or dad brings a meal.

Next month, we’ll leave the birds and take a look at some other creatures in our natural surroundings. Hope your first weeks of summer are lovely!

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3 Comments on "Welcome the new birds, both migrants and babies!"

  1. What are the birds that seem to have arrived recently and sing a beautiful song from high in the trees? Sort of a Whoop … Whew. I think of them like jungle birds. Are the woodthrushes?

    We have Grackles? In Texas the grackles looked like crows but made hilarious sounds like broken hinges. Never heard that here.

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