Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Nesting Season Continues for Many Birds
May 29, 2010
By Steve Grinley

     I glanced out the store window the other day and noticed a catbird had plunked itself down in the middle of the birdbath that we have on the ground. The catbird preceded to fluff its feathers and flutter its wings, vigorously giving itself a total bath, much like I have seen robins do. I have seen the goldfinch and orioles drink from the bath, but this was the first time I saw a catbird submerge himself in the water. Of course it was one of those hot, humid days when many creatures were seeking relief from the heat.

     Bird baths can be a great addition to any yard. Even birds that don’t normally come to feeders, need, and will come to, water. Adding a little movement to the water with a dripper or waterfall rock helps attract the birds. As long as you keep the water fresh, birds will use it right through the summer.

     I have a pair of catbirds that nest behind the store. This is the second or third year that they have nested. They partake of the jelly from our oriole feeder, helping us to go through a jar of grape jelly a week. Of course the orioles eat their share. The brilliant male still comes and at least one or two other males. I also see a female once in a while, and there may be two of them. These birds will probably nest in the area and, hopefully will stay the summer.

     Our goldfinches are still chowing down on the thistle. I haven’t seen any house finches lately, but they may be off nesting. The same may be true of our chickadees. I only see one once in a while at the feeders, so they are likely feeding insects to their young. I may put out some mealworms and see if that might make it easier for some of them. A customer told me that she had purchased one of our obelisks with a little cape house on top. No sooner had she put it out in her yard when a pair of chickadees came and nested in it. That was six weeks ago and the chickadees have just fledged this past week.

     Many birds, such as catbirds and robins have two broods a year, and sometimes three. Of the cavity-nesting birds, those that will nest in a bird house, including bluebirds, house wrens, Carolina wrens, house finches and, of course, house sparrows, will all have two and sometimes three broods a year. That means if your bird house hasn’t been occupied yet, there is still a chance that a family will take up residence. Also, it isn’t too late to put up another bird house as some birds will be nesting into June and July.

     I’m continuing to work on Mass Audubon’s Breeding Bird Atlas this year. We are in the fourth year of a five year project where we are trying to confirm as many nesting species as possible. The state is divided into blocks, each block being about 10 square miles, and volunteers survey each block, watching bird behavior, to determine the presence of breeding birds. Watching birds carrying nest material, carrying food, or feeding fledglings are confirming evidence of breeding. Of course, finding an actual nest is great, but for many birds who are adept at hiding nests in thick foliage, that isn’t always possible.

     I picked up a third block this season that includes the eastern part of Amesbury and the western part of Salisbury. Unlike my other two blocks that include much of Newbury and Newburyport, there isn’t much public land in this new block, so trying to confirm birds will have its challenges. Margo and I have already found nesting great blue herons, bluebirds, and rough-winged swallows near the Salisbury Industrial Park. A pair of killdeer with three “puff-ball” babies were also present there. The other evening, I found a pair of green herons along the Powwow River from the Riverwalk. Hopefully, return visits will provide stronger evidence of them nesting.

     If you see, or hear of, other possible breeding birds in any of these areas, please let me know. Or if there are some special places that you think that we should access in my blocks, that would be helpful as well. I’ll keep you posted as this Atlas project continues.

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
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