Monday, August 14, 2017

The Birds of Late Summer

By Beth Sullivan
This spring was lush. Vegetation grew overtime as if trying to make up for the lost time of the drought last year. This abundance supported an excess of flowers, fruits and seeds, as well as an excess of insects that appreciated all the growth. A great year to be a bird!
The early birds got not only the worms, but all the best nesting sites. Those species that nested first were those resident birds who had their territories all staked out before the migrants arrived. Our Cardinals, Chickadees, Titmice, Woodpeckers, and Wrens nested first and raised their young on the abundance of insects of early summer. But they also got off to a quick start because they were able to enjoy the seeds of late winter, and seeds at our feeders. Many of these species had second broods, and may occasionally try a third.
The busy House Wren filled several boxes with twigs and chose this as her first of three nests this summer

The resident Cardinal started early and raised two families under the kitchen window.

Migrants move in

The migrants came next to find their niche: the tree top Warblers, Tanagers, Orioles, and Hummingbirds to name a few. These are not seed eaters; they rely on the plants to offer nectar in flowers and small insects in the foliage. They will not begin to nest until there is adequate food to support their nestlings. Each year we await the arrival of the Hummingbirds and Orioles which seem to be timed with the blossoming of my Quince bush. It’s a great nectar source for both birds. Of course we can’t resist offering the feeders with sugar water to bring them in close. Somehow the Orioles seem to vanish into the fields and shrub edges, but the Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds have now fledged their two youngsters and the populations at our feeders and flower gardens have truly exploded. Hummingbird antics are great to watch and even ferocious at times. I can’t help imagining what these displays might be like if these little dynamos were as big as Robins.
The Orioles do not appear until there are flowering fruit trees. Photo by Dennis Main.

This young Hummingbird is learning her way around the feeder and the bees.

The young birds of prey are out now and are probably the noisiest. Osprey, Broad-winged and other hawks all have young fledged now. While they may be able to fly, they sure haven’t mastered the art of feeding themselves, so they call for parents who can deliver the fish and small mammal prey that also seem to be abundant this year.
This young Broad-Winged Hawk squeals all day, waiting to be fed.

Diets of seeds and berries

But it is the birds of later summer that often intrigue me: specifically the Goldfinches and the Cedar Waxwings. While these birds do eat insects, they wait until their truly favored foods are most abundant before starting a family. Both of these species do not begin nesting until August.
It is this month that the grasses have matured, holding their seed heads high and offering their fragile stems to the fluffs-of-gold Finches so they can pick the ripening seeds. They also rely on downy material for their nests. It is only now that many of the field flowers are offering up their seeds with the fluffy down parachutes that will help the seeds disperse. It’s a little early for most of the Milkweed pods to be opened, but some are. There are numerous field flowers related to wild lettuce and Hawkweeds that have white fluffy seeds held aloft. Thistles, even the invasive ones, are beginning to open up and with Goldfinches on top, can be so beautiful: bright yellow near the purple flowers, picking seeds and down. A Goldfinch nest is a masterwork of softness.
The Cedar Waxwings prefer berries. Only now are some of our local bushes bearing fruit: Viburnums, Virginia Creeper Vine, some Dogwoods and of course some of our own favored blueberries and raspberries can attract Cedar Waxwings if they can beat the Catbirds. They are nesting during August and will feed their young an abundance of fruits as the summer advances.
Goldfinches can be seen on late summer grasses, picking seeds.

The Cedar Waxwing appeared to be attacking this spider web, but was pulling fibers for its nest.

The Knox Preserve and Preston Nature Preserve are two places to find these later-nesting birds. The Waxwings will be whistling higher among the shrubs and cedars and the Goldfinches will be calling and perching in the grasses in the field.
Take some time to sit still, listen to the sounds of the later summer: Cicadas, Crickets, and all the birds. Think of the cycles of the seasons and how everything has its place. Somewhat of a miracle to me.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan unless otherwise noted.

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