Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Young Birds Steal the Summer Show
July 3, 2010
By Steve Grinley

     Last year, we watched a beautiful scarlet tanager feeding some ugly cowbird fledglings at Martin Burns Wildlife Management Area. I have watched a warbler, a pine warbler, at its nest in Maudslay State Park, feeding a baby cowbird that would grow to more than twice the warbler’s size. Cowbirds are parasites, dropping their eggs into other birds nests for the host bird to hatch and raise. Since cowbirds often choose a smaller host bird such as a warbler or vireo, the larger cowbird hatchlings get most of the food and crowd out the host’s offspring.

     So it was refreshing to see pine warblers, towhees, indigo buntings and chipping sparrows actually feeding their own fledglings at Maudslay State Park this past weekend. Young birds continuing to dominate the birding scene, so I thought I would share with you some seasonal perspective that friend and colleague Doug Chickering of Groveland first shared with us back in 2004:

     “The migrations were a time of great excitement. The spring winds brought us a wide variety of avifauna, moving through on their way to their ancestral homes. Our anticipation was great, our anxieties peaked. Every minute brought the promise of some unexpected treasure or a heartbreaking miss. The surge swept through our lives, and then in June it was over. This was replaced by a different time: quieter, subdued, almost secretive. The local breeders still called out their slightly altered songs from the boundaries of their property, and we could still see them darting furtively in the growing vegetation as they built nests settled into their familial duties. Then slowly, almost imperceptibly that time also passed. And now we are into a different time. It is the end of the July, and now we watch as the newest generation makes its first tentative appearance.

     “We first become aware of the sprouting of new life by the rising chorus of high pitched squeaks and chips from out of the deep foliage. The yellow warbler darts to the top of the bush, a green, squirming worm clutched firmly in his beak. Alert and nervous he takes a quick look around; pauses when he sees me, makes a decision and drops into the bush. The squeaking in the bush stops; the yellow pops back up on the bush, now a white fecal sack in his bill and then darts off again.

     Then a week or so later the fledges are out of the bush and we get our first look at the next generation. Clumsy, still streaked with their fuzz and still frantically begging from their parents, they are making their first uncertain steps into the new world. I get a special thrill in seeing it all.

     “On my walk this last week there were at least a half dozen yellow warbler’s jumping around in the brush by the side of road; tailless, clueless, looking around for their parents and giving occasionally flutterings of their wings, begging for food. There were the four tiny black balls of fuzz; Virginia rail chicks scurrying along the edge of the brackish marsh on Route 1A. The young rose-breasted grosbeak that visits Lois’ feeder every day now, accompanied by its mother. It perches very uneasily on the feeder pole, watching its mother as she punishes the sunflower seed in the Droll Yankee tube feeder. Occasionally it pecks ineffectively at the top of the pole, and occasionally the mother comes up to feed it, then drops back to the feeder. The young male resembles the mother but is sharper and brighter than its parent. It is all so uplifting and delightful.

     “Soon this also will pass. The parents will deny their begging children, the tails will grow out, the trips onto the branches will be surer and more deft. Soon it will be hard to distinguish child from adult. Then we will be drifting into the next season. Already the first shorebirds have arrived. Soon we will be looking for northwest winds. Soon we will be looking for godwits, and buff-breasted sandpipers, and autumn warblers.”

     Not yet, Doug. Let’s enjoy the summer season for a while!

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
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4 years of service to the birding community! 
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