Just when all the nests and baby birds and new young things were starting to lose my interest, I learned something amazing: a pair of bald eagles are raising chicks right down the street! There’s a tall pine tree in someone’s backyard, and the eagles have built a huge nest (5 or 6 feet across) up in the highest crook. I got some pictures, but it’s so many feet in the air they’re pretty fuzzy. A little point-and-shoot zoom lens can only be asked to do so much. 😉
Anyway, I’ve spent a couple of days watching the birds, and they are just amazing. (I am wildly jealous of whoever’s got them in their yard!) There are two huge eagles and (presumably) a nest full of chicks. Generally, one eagle sits on a branch and stands guard, while its mate is out hunting. Sooner or later, the other eagle will fly into the nest, and then the guard takes off seconds later to go hunt/fish/stretch its wings/etc. It’s incredible to watch. Last night I got to see the parent tearing up whatever it caught (probably fish) and feeding it to the chicks.
The yard has become a sort of neighborhood camp ground. People are always there trying to catch some action. It’s amazing how after so many years of worrying about these great birds and trying to save them from extinction, they’re raising their offspring in our backyards.
More to come….
A pair of european starlings is nesting across the street from me in a neighbor’s cable & telephone box. It’s a metal box, about the size of a shoebox, with wires sticking out in every direction. There’s a small hole in the bottom of the box, & the starlings fly in & out all the time, squishing past the wires.
Yesterday I got a look into the sparrow’s nest. It’s very interesting. The birdhouse is filled to the brim with twigs & such, & there’s a tunnel going into it that slants upward. After a few inches of this it drops down into the nest hole, where the eggs are.
Lately there’s been an Eastern Cottontail hanging around my neighborhood. These common rabbits like all the vegetation & the bird feeders that spill seeds around here. (But not so much the hawks.) By the way, I’ve figured out that birds, if you put out sunflower seeds still in the shell, will actually crack the shell, swallow the nut meat, & then they will lean over the edge of the feeder, & spit the shell onto the ground. Talk about bad manners! The rabbits show up early in the morning & in the early evening, but you can still see them in the day. It’s amazing how cottontails have adapted to city life. They are quite different from the eastern cottontails in the wild. They are hardly afraid of humans at all, & they eat from underneath bird feeders like they’ve been doing it forever. The rabbits probably all have nests by now, as they have kits from Feb. to Sept. The mother rabbit, also called a doe, spends very little time at her nest, instead she forages for food away from the nest to draw attention toward herself & not her young. Interestingly, it’s for the same reason that male birds are so brightly feathered & spend so much of their time away from their nest. They are so often accused of being lazy, when actually they are sitting in a nearby tree, boasting their brilliant colors to all hungry eyes, & singing their hearts out quite selflessly. This way they call attention to themselves & not their precious nest, with the female & young with their drab coats that blend in perfectly with the things around them. Rabbits work the same way. The doe comes home to feed her kits for only a short time each day; the rest of the time the brood must fend for themselves, which they do just fine. If you find rabbit kits alone, they probably are in good shape & are waiting for their mother to come home. Many people see a brood of young rabbits alone &, thinking they’ve been orphaned, take them home. This is a bad idea. If you are worried they’ve been orphaned, put some unscented dental floss around the nest and check to see if it is disturbed in 24 to 48 hours to show if the mother has been there. If not, call a wildlife rehab center.
Today I saw a brown-headed cowbird looking for food with some sparrows. They are a bit larger than the sparrows, maybe by an inch or so; the male has a brown head, & a glossy black body, & the female is grayish-brown all over. Brown-headed cowbirds are North America’s most infamous brood parasite. They don’t build their own nests, incubate their own eggs, & rear their own chicks, instead, brown-headed cowbirds have a developed an alternative breeding strategy. The females use other birds as hosts – they lay their eggs in nests of other bird species and rely on those birds to incubate and raise their young. It has been discovered that brown-headed cowbirds have parasitized more than 220 host species, such as the black-capped vireo, blue-winged teal, & red-headed woodpecker. However, not all host birds make good parents – a number of birds will toss the cowbird eggs out of their nests upon finding them, because brown-headed cowbird eggs can look distinctly different from the eggs of their host species. Still, brown-headed cowbird chicks have been raised successfully by more than 150 host species (which is less than 3/4 of the birds they try to get to raise their young), & songbirds make up most of their hosts.