Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Evening ‘sit’ can entertain and reward
August 11, 2007
Steve Grinley

     Last week, I talked about all the fledgling birds that are entertaining us in our backyards. None are quite as majestic and awe-inspiring as the West Newbury eagle, but each have their own special characteristics and behaviors that are fun to watch. We seem to learn something new whenever we take the time to watch and listen to what goes on. Such was the case for Doug Chickering of Groveland, who shares his backyard fledgling activity with us.

     “They are at it again. The house sparrows are feeding young once again. They have been feeding young almost continually since early June, and they are still at it. This must be the second, or perhaps even the third, crop of the summer. It’s no wonder that there will be over 70 at the feeders in November. Lois Cooper and I have seen a lot of birds with young and feeding young this summer. We are taken to sitting out on the deck at the approach of twilight quite regularly watching the activity at the feeders. It has been very interesting; very rewarding.

     “Just off the top of my memory I recall seeing red-winged blackbirds, grackles, hairy woodpecker, song sparrow, house finch, robin, cardinal, catbird, chipping sparrow and, unfortunately, chipping sparrow feeding a cowbird. All in the evening in the backyard. These late afternoon and early evening birding experiences are to be recommended. They are leisurely and contemplative. They permit extensive and unhurried observations and I have noticed a lot of things that I have never really noticed before.

     “For example, in most young birds there is still a vestigial roll of yellow skin at the gape, which was useful when opening their mouths to induce feeding. When they first emerge from the eggs their gaping jaws are their most prominent feature, and are still marginally present when the other nestling characteristics are gone. I also noticed that the young are so enthusiastic to be fed by an adult they occasionally insist that an adult of another species feed them, even when they should know better. I once saw a young grackle not only make the feed-me gesture to a female house sparrow, but even pursue through the trees until the sparrow turned and gave her a little thrashing. I have noticed that the young are often larger than the parents. This is particularly true with hairy woodpecker and red-winged blackbirds. Also it appears as if the fledgling hairy woodpecker sports a red stripe over the top of the crown, reaching from the base of the bill almost to the nape. This is a field mark I have never seen in the field guides and have never heard described. Perhaps it was unique to this individual. (This field mark, actually, is characteristic of most juvenile downy and hairy woodpeckers. Sibley illustrates this in his field guide.)

     “It is a special quiet birding moment when the shadows crawl across the yard; the low sun brightly illuminates the trees in back, the day cools down and everything is quiet. There is still more to come in my evening sits. I have seen a young rose-breasted grosbeak, and may see more. We have already had three warblers; yellow, yellowthroat and blue-winged warbler in dispersal and hope to have more. And, of course, in August there will be the nighthawks. I love nighthawks.”

     So watch the evening skies for nighthawks the next few weeks. These sleek birds with long, pointed wings with a white stripe on each wing will do aerial acrobats as they fly overhead. Like Doug, you, too, may find evening sits to be entertaining, educational and rewarding.

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