Bird Lady Blog

September 11, 2013

The Good and the Bad in Birdland


Steller's Jay courtesy of Gordon Karre

Steller’s Jay courtesy of Gordon Karre

I know:  this title sounds like a drama – maybe one of those wonderful productions put on by the Pinewood Players theatre group.  But no, this article is really all about what has been happening within the circle of life for our birds in Munds Park.  This month has been a big one for hatchlings and the next generation of birds that will carry on the species.

On the pond at the 18th tee box at Pinewood Country Club’s golf course we’ve seen baby American Coots swimming around their parents, still being fed but starting to learn how to fend for themselves.  Newly hatched American Coots are really cute – they have black down feathers over their bodies, bright orange head feathers, and red beaks.  I’ve read that their eyes are blue, but I’ve never been close enough to see myself.  They will become mostly gray as juveniles, and as adults they will be primarily black with a white beak.  Also by that same pond one morning a mom and little girl from across the condos were watching a female Mallard Duck herd around her eight ducklings.  I’ve received reports from friends who’ve told me they have Western Bluebirds and Tree Swallows using their nest boxes, with lots of activity of chicks being fed by hard-working parents and then eventually being gently coaxed out of the nest.  At our own deck feeders we’ve had as many as four Black-Headed Grosbeaks at a time – two of them immature, still flapping their wings and begging for food while being shown how to eat black sunflower seeds by the male parent.

So all that is “the good”.  As for “the bad”, I guess it’s all in your perspective.  As we know, nature can be cruel, with many birds in the role of predators.  Certain predators do hunt other birds (such as the Cooper’s Hawk, which primarily preys on songbirds, or the Bald Eagle, which will go after the weakest Sandhill Crane in a flock.)

I received a photo via e-mail from Munds Park residents Bill and Corrine.  They asked if I could identify the bird eggs that were in a planter on their deck.  Bill was very diligent – he not only took photos of the planter and the four eggs in the nest, but he also snuck up on the parent as it sat on the eggs, and he took a third photo.  Based on the bird’s head and the color of the eggs, we thought it was a Junco.  He said he would keep watch and later confirmed that the bird’s back was rusty orange – reinforcing our thoughts that the bird nest was that of a pair of Dark-Eyed Juncos.

But then, drama!  Bill’s and Corrine’s grandson reported that a large, blue bird hopped into the planter.  When they investigated further, they found that the Steller’s Jay had raided the nest and one of the eggs was missing.  Jays have a reputation for stealing and eating the eggs of other birds.  So Bill tucked some plastic covering around the planter, leaving a space for the parent bird to enter, and then he threw some peanuts to the side so the Steller’s Jay would be distracted.   The Junco came back and continued to sit on her eggs.  A few days later, two of the three remaining viable eggs hatched, and as I write this article, the Juncos are going in and out feeding the babies.  We don’t know if it is one bird or two that is taking on the parenting duties because the sexes are similar.  But hopefully by the time this paper is out for publication, the two birds will successfully fledge and find their way to your bird baths.  I have Juncos regularly at my on-the-ground bird bath, but not at my deck feeder.  Juncos tend to forage close to the ground.

All in all, this time of the year is very busy for birds – they are working hard to survive as well as to raise their offspring.  Only the strongest and luckiest will make it through.

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