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Birder’s Eye View: Tending the kids

  • Diana Churchill
  • Photo by Diana Churchill/For Beaufort Today A hard-working male bluebird does his share to bring in the insects.
  • Photo by Diana Churchill/For Beaufort Today A mother ruby-throated hummingbird checks on her soon-to-fledge baby.
  • Photo by Diana Churchill/For Beaufort Today Adult and juvenile screech owls hang out in the bamboo.
  • A wood stork family in its nest high in the sky at Oatland Island’s Ledbetter pond. Photo by Diana Churchill/For Beaufort Today A wood stork family in its nest high in the sky at Oatland Island’s Ledbetter pond.

It’s June and the bird world is hopping. Everywhere you look, you’ll see the logical fruit of all that springtime courting and mating.

Great and small, and mostly one and all, hard-working bird parents are busy tending the kids.

The bluebirds are on to round two of nesting. They have already sent the first batch of teenagers off to summer camp and are working on getting the second group fattened up and ready for kindergarten.

While Mr. Bluebird lets his mate build the nest and sit on the eggs, when it comes time to feed the kids, he is up to the task. Both bluebird parents spend about a month in catch-and-carry insect mode.

While most of the chickadees, titmice and nuthatches figure one brood is plenty, the bluebirds keep nesting and nesting and nesting. Three broods per couple are the norm rather than the exception in our area.

That’s why it’s important to have a birdhouse that can be easily opened. After each brood leaves the nest, the savvy bluebird landlord will clean out the old nest so Mrs. Bluebird can start fresh for the next one.

Some bird fathers are cads, not dads. The male ruby-throated hummingbird is eager to show off his flashy colors and his aerial prowess, but he is absolutely no help around the house.

After mating, Mrs. Ruby-throat goes off by herself and builds a tiny nest using spider web silk and oak lichen. She lays the eggs, incubates them and raises the kids.

I had a special treat this year. On April 25, one of my readers sent me an email with a picture of a hummingbird nest she had discovered on the branch of a magnolia tree outside her front door.

Unfortunately, it was just before she moved out of that house, but I was still able to see and photograph the nest in its early stages. I was impressed with the female’s intelligent nest site selection. Magnolia leaves are big and broad and provide great protection from the rain.

I happened to also know her neighbors, who promised to keep an eye on the nest. However, when I called them toward the end of May, they said there had been a lot of construction and they thought the nest had been abandoned. Then two days later, they sent an email with a photo of two nearly grown young hummingbirds in the nest.

I went over two days later and was lucky to see mom visiting the one young hummer that remained in the nest. By June 1, that bird had flown and the nest was empty.

Some bird parents take the night shift. Friends on Whitemarsh Island put up a birdhouse for screech owls 10 years ago and got lucky. The owls have used the box year after year. One feature that makes the site so attractive seems to be the stand of bamboo on the back of the property, a perfect retreat and hiding place for young owls.

This year, my friend left me an excited phone message. The parent owls were outside the box calling to the babies and she thought they must be about to fledge. I went over there the next morning, but there was no sign of activity in the box. Owls generally sleep away the day and hunt and feed their young at night.

Cautiously, I played a screech owl call. Immediately, an irate-looking adult owl face appeared in the opening. After assuring herself there was no danger, she drifted back to sleep.

I stopped by later that night before dark and was treated to a look at one of the fluffy youngsters. As it got darker, both parents made repeated visits to the house to drop off tasty treats for the kids.

Two days later, we watched and waited. A pair of blue jays came in and seemed to be upset about something. Then I spied a bit of movement in the bamboo. One fluffy grey juvenile and one rufous parent were perched together in the bamboo. Just before dark, we glanced at the box and saw the second baby peeking out.

On Sunday, I was at the Oatland Island Wildlife Center. The volunteer coordinator directed me to Ledbetter pond to see the wood stork and egret nests. It was fascinating to see the parent storks high in the sky, keeping watch over their almost-grown youngsters.

Here, there and everywhere, bird parents are busy tending the kids. Good birding!

Bird enthusiast Diana Churchill can be reached via email at dichurchbirds@gmail.com.

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