Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Birds Are Busy Nesting in June
June 6, 2009
By Steve Grinley
June is nesting time in the bird world. Most of our local birds are settling down to nest, if, in fact, they haven’t done so already. Some late winter nesters, especially some of the owls, have already fledged young. Great horned owls have fledged young from nests on Scotland Road in Newbury and Route 1A in Rowley. A family of little saw-whet owls have left their cavity nest in Gloucester and two barred owlets have emerged from a nesting box in Boxford. The baby owls will be dependent on their parents for the next couple of months until they learn to fend for themselves. A screech owl was sitting on top of a wood duck box in Amesbury, but further investigation is needed to discover if it is nesting there
June is nesting time in the bird world. Most of our local birds are settling down to nest, if, in fact, they haven’t done so already. Some late winter nesters, especially some of the owls, have already fledged young. Great horned owls have fledged young from nests on Scotland Road in Newbury and Route 1A in Rowley. A family of little saw-whet owls have left their cavity nest in Gloucester and two barred owlets have emerged from a nesting box in Boxford. The baby owls will be dependent on their parents for the next couple of months until they learn to fend for themselves. A screech owl was sitting on top of a wood duck box in Amesbury, but further investigation is needed to discover if it is nesting there.
Red-tailed hawks are also early nesters and while some young hawks may have fledged by now, there is still an active nest at Maudslay State Park. Goshawks are aggressively defending their nest in Groveland. You don’t want to be in the same woods where goshawks are nesting as they will attack!
It is time to make way for ducklings as mallards already have their families following them around. A Newburyport resident who lives on the Merrimack River brought in some eggshells and down feathers which she found near her house. These were evidence of a mallard’s nest where the ducklings have already hatched and left the nest. Canada geese are also caring for their yellow goslings in the pond in the Newbury Upper Green, in the Newburyport Industrial Park, and on the Parker River Refuge on Plum Island (to name a few. There are a lot of them!)
Some early nesters such as bluebirds and robins may already be on their second brood. Second nesters are trying again in several area communities. In fact, these birds may sometimes have a third brood.
Some of our May migrants including hummingbirds, house wrens, Baltimore and orchard orioles, gray catbirds, and rose-breasted grosbeaks are just getting started or they may be as far along as sitting on eggs. These birds are likely to raise only one family each, though one customer told me about two families of house wrens in her yard. House wrens will build several “dummy” nests in an area before the female decides on one. The males are very territorial and the fact that there are two nesting wrens so close to each other indicates that it may be one male with two females. The afternoon soaps don’t corner the market as polygamy in wrens is well documented.
Goldfinches, on the other hand, don’t nest until later in June and July. Since goldfinches feed main on seeds, waiting until later in the season ensures a better supply of natural seeds from flowers and weeds for the young birds.
This is the third year of a five year Breeding Bird Atlas conducted by the Massachusetts Audubon Society. This survey of nesting birds helps to determine the distribution of nesting birds in our state. Understanding distribution changes helps to determine what conservation measures are needed to help birds survive and thrive. The first Atlas was done back in the late 1970s and the data gather on the current Atlas 2 project can be compared to the data collected then.
The project is done mainly by volunteers. The state is divided into more than one thousand “blocks” of about ten square miles each. Volunteers survey those blocks to find evidence of breeding by each species observed. I have two blocks that essentially cover from Route 95 to Route 1 and from the Merrimack River south to the Parker River. I’ve recorded about seventy species of birds, confirmed or possibly nesting, in each of those blocks.
The great thing about this project is that anyone can contribute. If you know of, or even suspect that a bird in nesting somewhere, you can record that online on the Mass Audubon web site. Just go to www.massaudubon.org and click on Breeding Bird Atlas. Species can be recorded as possible just by seeing a bird in appropriate breeding habitat. There is a “probable” category which includes seeing a pair of birds in nesting habitat, a singing male in the same area for more than a week, or courtship behavior between birds. You don’t have to find a nest to “confirm’ nesting. Birds carrying nesting material to build a nest, or birds carrying food (presumably to feed young) are two of the criteria to confirm nesting. You can read more about this on the web site.
Trying to confirm nesting birds is another way of enjoying birds. It causes you to stop and watch, for periods at a time, the behavior of birds. You can sit in your backyard or on a park bench and just observe. Watch and listen carefully. You may see birds make a repeated trip to one particular tree or shrub. Notice if they are carrying food or nesting material. It may be possible to find the nest if the foliage is not too thick and if it is possible to do so without disturbing the birds. You may have the pleasure of hearing baby birds squawking, or watching young fledgling birds being fed by their parents. It is a rewarding way of watching birds.
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