Surprise!

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. ūüėČ

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….

 

Nest Fest – Part 2

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.

Robins

'robins weave sticks & string to build their nests, then hold them together with mud'

Robins are one of the most common birds in my yard now. They come every day & eat sunflower seeds dropped under the feeder. 

The robin nest layed on my gutter¬†unfortunately came to a sad end. One day I went outside & I found it¬†on the ground. It looked as if there had only been 1 egg in it, but predators may have carried¬†others away.¬†Raccoons, opossums, & even other birds will eat bird eggs. I can’t figure out why it had been knocked down. The fork between the gutter & the roof may not have been very stable, or for some strange reason the parents may have knocked the nest down. )-:

Dragonflies

I saw one of the 1st dragonflies of spring today. As nymphs, they live underwater, & once they become adult dragonflies, they fly away & live on land. They still spend much of their time near water though. Dragonflies eat on the go, using baskets formed on their legs to catch insects while flying. They can fly so fast this is usually not a problem for them (but it is for the other insect). They are predators from nymphhood, eating smaller insects & even tadpoles & small fish. They can be virtually any color, & different species often look nothing alike. 

Waterfowl on the Mississippi

'webbed feet allow ducklings & goslings to swim almost immediately after hatching'

Mallard ducks are becoming more & more common as¬†it gets¬†closer to summer. A few of them stay all winter –¬†there’s almost always a bit of open water on the¬†Mississippi – but for the most part they leave in fall & come back in early spring. The Canada Geese will stay through the winter, living in the patches of water the currents keep from freezing up, but the¬†mallards are wimpy & head to places with easier food & living spots available. ¬†Soon there will be tiny, fluffy goslings & ducklings hatching. You can see them prancing around on the side of the road behind their parents, learning to swim & fly. They can swim almost from the moment they hatch, but it takes about 2¬†months for them to learn to fly.Click on the link to see a sweet video of a hen & her ducklings: http://video.yahoo.com/watch/5532776/14543018. Ducks lay eggs until late June, so there are ducklings around most of the summer. It takes a duck egg 4 weeks to hatch, which is actually a pretty long time – most bird eggs hatch in 21 days.

Robins call gutter ‘home’

A pair of robins recently decided that a good place to raise their family would be on top of my rain-gutter. It’s actually kind of convenient because I can see right into the nest from my balcony. It’s a big nest, about 4-6 inches wide, & it’s woven really tightly. It’s amazing how birds can¬†weave nests that well with only a beak to do it. They made a huge, messy nest first, & then one day when I looked at it they had knocked the whole thing to the ground,¬†except the bottom few twigs.¬†Then they built it up again much neater & tighter, but¬†the bottom of it is still¬†sticking out in every direction. The robins¬†sit on the eggs most of the time, & sometimes they don’t fly away when I go outside to look at them. I am expecting to see chicks soon. Yay! (-: ¬†¬†(Click the tiny pic to see it close up. Sometimes¬†the photo blows up really huge before it becomes easy to see.)¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†

Cottontails

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. ¬†

Cowbird sighting

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.

Sparrow chicks

"Sparrow eggs."

House¬†sparrow eggs are hatching.¬†House sparrows lay eggs April – June, & can have many broods of eggs in a season, so some of the eggs aren’t hatched yet. In fact, since it only takes 13 -16 days for a¬†House sparrow egg to hatch, most of the eggs haven’t even been laid yet.¬†It only takes a few weeks for the¬†house sparrow chicks to mature. House sparrows live only about¬†1 – 2 years, & after a few months the young are old enough to¬†nest themselves.¬†A house sparrow can lay 25 eggs in a single season. House sparrows are monogamous, (they mate for life) & stay in their pairs throughout &¬†in-between breeding seasons.¬†¬†

All about herons

"Great Blue Heron."

Today I saw a Great Blue Heron flying with a fish in its beak.They’ve come back to Minnesota from their wintering grounds in states like Iowa, California, & places as low as Texas & some as high as Montana, &¬†the west coast of Canada. But they don’t stay¬†in Minnesota during the winter.¬†

Great Blue Herons hunt by standing as still as a stone near the edge of a body of water. They’re amazingly patient; they’ll stand forever, waiting for a meal.But¬†when a fish or a frog does swim by, mistaking them for a bush, or a log,¬†the heron¬†strikes with¬†its long neck¬†& swallows the fish with its large bill. It’s really hard even to see it, it’s so fast. Great Blue Herons usually swallow their food without chewing, right away, so the one I saw was probably taking its fish back to its nest, which is¬†called a heronry.

The Great Blue Heron is large, a couple of feet tall, with gray-blue feathers, a white face, & black on its shoulders, belly, & crown. It has very broad wings, which beat slowly as  it flies. When it flies, it folds its neck, so it looks very short, and its legs stick out behind it.

The Great Blues Herons are mating & nesting now. Mature herons only have long feathers & a yellow bill during mating season, to help them attract mates. They often build their heronries miles away from water & places to hunt. Both the male & female incubate the eggs. There are usually about 3-7 of them, & they are light greenish-blue. The size of the eggs increases the farther north you go. Both parents take care of the young until they leave the nest, about 5-30 days after they begin flying at 56-60 days.   

Peep, peep

"At first, the chicks huddle together to stay warm."

"The chicks are tuckered out from hatching."

Today I¬†was able to see¬†some newborn chickens. They had just hatched out of their eggs, and¬†they were super tiny¬†and fluffy¬†and still wet from¬†being¬†inside their eggs.¬†They were all sorts of different colors. The color of a chickens’ egg is the same color as the skin of it’s¬†ear-flap,¬†and many of¬†the eggs were very different looking. A black¬†and¬†white chick¬†hatches out of a blue-green egg,¬†and¬†a yellow chick hatches out¬†of a white egg, at least for those particular species.¬†¬†

I was also able to see a chick hatch. When a chick hatches, they first poke a hole in the egg-shell with their egg tooth, the single tooth that they have on the end of their beak when they are born. (The tooth later disappears as they grow older.) Then they begin to peck a line 3/4 of the way around one end of the shell. After that, they simply push their way out of the shell. And there you have it. A baby chicken.

At first they’re very tired from hatching. They collapse on the ground for a long time, all huddled together. After a while they begin to get more curious. They are quite vocal¬†and¬†chirp all the time. Their chirping encourages the chicks who haven’t hatched yet to start pecking their way out of their egg.¬†In fact,¬†before any of them hatch, they call to each¬†other from inside the eggs, to signal that they are ready to start hatching. Then they all will hatch within about 8¬†hours of each other. It’s amazingly coordinated. In a few hours they’re all dried out,¬†exploring, and peeping to each other.¬†¬†