Summer #6: Fledges and Feeders

swallow.jpgAs I have previously written, birds are now doing much less singing (territories are for the most part set and mates, with some notable exceptions (see below), have been chosen) and are very busy with food gathering and nurturing (nestlings and fledglings are growing and are hungry!). Deborah and I observed an industrious pair of tree swallows out at Harrison Hills Park last week (photo by Deborah). The parental birds were making great, arcing loops around a nesting box located in the middle of a wet, old field meadow near the park’s pond. They were busily gathering insects that they delivered every minute or so to their hungry nestlings who stuck their heads out of the nest box hole and grabbed the offered insect whenever one of parental birds landed on the perch of the box. We watched this incredible work display for many minutes until one of the adult birds flew over us and aggressively skimmed the top of my hat in an obvious message, “move on mammals!”

The cardinals, titmice and house finches that come to my bird feeders fledged and weaned their first brood last month and are busy with their second clutch right now. The Carolina wrens had a “marital dispute” that I watched in my backyard. The pair were nesting either in the old wood pile or out in the shelter of some landscape timbers and had been regular visitors both at the front yard feeders and around our deck in the evenings. A few days ago a second male wren showed up and after quite a bit of aggressive flying and chattering flew off with the previously committed female. The abandoned male perched, still and silent,  all afternoon up on the rim of my basketball hoop. That evening, though, he started to sing again possibly re-asserting his territory and calling out to any unpaired (or dissatisfied) area females. In a day or two there was a pair of Carolina wrens out back again, flying in a coordinated manner back and forth from tree perches to the wood pile. I could not tell which male or which female were in this pair, but everyone is welcome to have a go at putting together a narrative about them.

Out in the feeder area of the front yard the fledglings of the cardinals and house finches are especially noisy. They call incessantly to their parents and display wide open mouths and frenetically flapping wings whenever a parent comes near. Initially, the parental birds regurgitate seeds on demand to their progeny, but after a few days they either begin to ignore or even actively avoid their screaming offspring. I watched an adult titmouse flying acrobatically through labyrinths of spruce tree limbs in an attempt to get away from its demanding (and pursuing) young. This flying practice, come to think of it, just might be an excellent lesson to help the fledgling one day avoid a pursuing sharp-shinned hawk!

The dozens of feeder birds are sharing the black oil sunflower seeds with an extended family of eight gray squirrels, two red squirrels, three chipmunks (who have dug burrows in the front yard), and a young buck with a broken right antler. There are also some possums, skunks, and racoons who come in and clean up any spillage after dark. I am putting out about 50 pounds of seed a week, but the show that it generates is much better than anything on cable.

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