Category Archives: Young birds

Elizabethton summer bird count sets new record

The Lee and Lois Herndon Chapter of Tennessee Ornithological Society, also known as the Elizabethton Bird Club, conducts two summer surveys of area bird life. Last week, the results of the Unicoi County Summer Bird Count were explored. This week, the focus is on the Carter County Summer Bird Count, which set a new record. The 24th Carter County Summer Bird Count was held Saturday, June 10, under favorable weather conditions with twenty observers in six parties. A record high of 123 species were tallied, besting the previous high of 121 species set in 2013. The average over the previous 23 years was 112 species, ranging from a low of 105 to as many as 121.

Long-time count compiler Rick Knight said highlights of the count included seven Ruffed Grouse, including chicks, as well as such species as Yellow-crowned Night-heron, Bald Eagle, Red-shouldered Hawk and 21 species of warblers.

The American Robin, with 392 individuals counted, barely edged out European Starling, with 389 individuals counted, for most numerous bird on this year’s summer count.

Making the Summer Bird Count for the first time was Red-headed Woodpecker, represented by a pair of birds nesting at Watauga Point Recreation Area on Watauga Lake near Hampton. Other notable songbirds found included Vesper Sparrow, Blue Grosbeak, Red Crossbill and Pine Siskin. I counted birds with Chris Soto, Mary Anna Wheat, and Brookie and Jean Potter at such locations as Wilbur Lake, Holston Mountain and Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens • Birds like this Red-bellied Woodpecker helped set a new record for most species on one of the Elizabethton Summer Bird Counts.

The count’s total follows:
Canada Goose, 258; Wood Duck, 7; Mallard, 125; Ruffed Grouse, 7; Wild Turkey, 21; and Double-crested Cormorant, 1.
Great Blue Heron, 10; Green Heron, 1; Yellow-crowned Night-heron, 1; Black Vulture, 7; and Turkey Vulture, 28.
Sharp-shinned Hawk, 1; Cooper’s Hawk, 7; Bald Eagle, 2; Red-shouldered Hawk, 3; Broad-winged Hawk, 7; and Red-tailed Hawk, 5.
Killdeer, 2; Rock Pigeon, 37; Eurasian Collared Dove, 1; Mourning Dove, 137; Yellow-billed Cuckoo, 4; Eastern Screech-owl, 2; Great Horned Owl, 2; Barred Owl, 2; Common Nighthawk, 1; Chuck-will’s-widow, 5; and Whip-poor-will, 8.
Chimney Swift, 80; Ruby-throated Hummingbird, 17; Belted Kingfisher, 3; Red-headed Woodpecker, 2; Red-bellied Woodpecker, 16; Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, 2; Downy Woodpecker, 12; Hairy Woodpecker, 4; Northern Flicker, 18; and Pileated Woodpecker, 24.
American Kestrel, 1; Eastern Wood-Pewee, 17; Eastern Phoebe, 71; Acadian Flycatcher, 20; Alder Flycatcher, 2; Willow Flycatcher, 1; Least Flycatcher, 5; Great Crested Flycatcher, 5; and Eastern Kingbird, 17.
White-eyed Vireo, 2; Yellow-throated Vireo, 2; Warbling Vireo, 1; Blue-headed Vireo, 41; Red-eyed Vireo, 126; Blue Jay, 69; American Crow, 227; and Common Raven, 7.
Northern Rough-winged Swallow, 45; Purple Martin, 53; Tree Swallow, 149; Barn Swallow, 129; and Cliff Swallow, 113.
Carolina Chickadee, 54; Tufted Titmouse, 71; Red-breasted Nuthatch, 12; White-breasted Nuthatch, 16; Brown Creeper, 2; House Wren, 79; Carolina Wren, 67; Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, 28; and Golden-crowned Kinglet, 12.
Eastern Bluebird, 88; Veery, 32; Hermit Thrush, 4; Wood Thrush, 43; American Robin, 392; Gray Catbird, 38; Brown Thrasher, 21; Northern Mockingbird, 42; European Starling, 389; and Cedar Waxwing, 64.
Ovenbird, 70; Worm-eating Warbler, 9; Louisiana Waterthrush, 9; Golden-winged Warbler, 13; Black-and-white Warbler, 26; Swainson’s Warbler, 2; Common Yellowthroat, 28; Hooded Warbler, 95; American Redstart, 6; Northern Parula, 25; Magnolia Warbler, 3; Blackburnian Warbler, 7; Yellow Warbler, 13; Chestnut-sided Warbler, 36; Black-throated Blue Warbler, 38; Pine Warbler, 3; Yellow-rumped Warbler, 1; Yellow-throated Warbler, 14; Black-throated Green Warbler, 26; Canada Warbler, 16; and Yellow-breasted Chat.
Eastern Towhee, 121; Chipping Sparrow, 78; Field Sparrow, 50; Vesper Sparrow, 1; Song Sparrow, 178; Dark-eyed Junco, 69; Scarlet Tanager, 31; Northern Cardinal, 94; Rose-breasted Grosbeak, 12; Blue Grosbeak, 2; and Indigo Bunting, 169.
Red-winged Blackbird, 77; Eastern Meadowlark, 11; Common Grackle, 84; Brown-headed Cowbird, 22; Orchard Oriole, 10; and Baltimore Oriole, 2.
House Finch, 26; Red Crossbill, 1; Pine Siskin, 5; American Goldfinch, 134; and House Sparrow, 27.

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I had a recent phone call with Erwin resident Don Dutton, who wanted to know why hummingbirds have been scarce around his home this summer. I’ve noticed fewer hummers at my own home this summer, but it’s natural for numbers to fluctuate from year to year. I anticipate that numbers will rise as hummingbirds begin migrating south again in the coming weeks. At that time, the adult hummers will be joined by the young birds from this season’s successful nesting attempts.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens • Numbers of Ruby-throated Hummingbird in the region tend to fluctuate each year, but people should see a spike in their numbers as the hummingbirds end summer nesting and start migrating south again.

Don shared that when he lived out west, he often visited Mount Charleston near Las Vegas, Nevada, where he saw swarms of hummingbirds comprised of various different species. In the eastern United States, the only nesting species is the Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

If you have felt slighted by hummers so far this year, keep a sugar water feeder available to attract them on their way south later this summer and into the fall. To share a sighting, make a comment, or ask a question, send email to ahoodedwarbler@aol.com.

 

 

Woman gets glimpse into life of a nesting ruby-throated hummingbird

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Photo Courtesy of Donna Ottinger                        This nest, filled with two tiny eggs, was discovered in a maple tree in a Bluff City yard by Donna Ottinger.

For Bluff City, Tennessee, resident Donna Ottinger, the show in her front yard beats anything you might find on television this summer. Since late July, Donna has been watching a female ruby-throated hummingbird that she has named Bliss carry out her nesting duties.

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Photo Courtesy of Donna Ottinger                  Bliss the ruby-throated hummingbird visits a feeder for a sip of sugar water.

Like all female ruby-throated hummingbirds, Bliss produced two eggs for containment in a delicate nest of spiderweb, lichen and plant fibers woven onto a maple tree branch. There are some reasons why it’s always a pair of eggs for hummingbirds. First, the nest is so small — about the size of a walnut half-shell — that there is barely room for two eggs, let alone more. Second, once the young hatch, the nest has just enough room to accommodate them as they grow, fed well by their mother. Third, feeding two hungry young hummingbirds is a demanding task. A female hummingbird has to find enough food to fuel her own body and help her young in the nest grow and thrive. It’s a full-time job during the daylight hours. She’s pressed hard to succeed at raising two young. Attempting to rear more would most likely prove impossible.

Donna compared the two tiny eggs to Tic Tac mints. The entire process — from building the nest to incubating eggs to tending hatchlings — requires a commitment of more than two months. Donna noted that even after the young hummingbirds hatched, Bliss continued to reinforce the nest with collected silk from spider webs.

Donna kept the nest under observation after she discovered it in late July. As she noted on her Facebook page, finding a hummingbird nest is not an everyday occurrence. The nest is on one of the lower branches of a large maple tree in her front yard only a short distance from her porch. She was able to sit comfortably while watching Bliss come and go to her tiny nest.

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Photo Courtesy of Donna Ottinger                                           Bliss, a ruby-throated hummingbird, sits on her nest to incubate her two eggs.

“It’s been a real blessing,” Donna told me when we met in person on Aug. 19. She was gracious enough to permit my mom and me to sit on her front porch and enjoy the show. During our visit, we got to watch as Bliss arrived to feed the babies. It’s not a spectacle for the squeamish. Bliss plunged her long bill deep into the throats of each baby bird in turn and pumped some nutritious contents into the growing youngsters. Despite the fact that it looked like she could easily impale the babies, they suffered no ill effects and looked quite full and satisfied after the visit.

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Photo Courtesy of Donna Ottinger              On Aug. 1, one chick hatched. The second chick hatched the following day, making for a very full nest.

The two babies were hatched on Aug. 1 and Aug. 2, respectively. The staggered hatching reflects the fact that Bliss also laid the eggs on separate days. Not knowing the gender of the babies, Donna named the Aug. 1 hatchling Monday for the day of the week hatching took place. In turn, the second baby, which escaped its shell on Aug. 2, was named Tuesday.

Once hatched, young hummingbirds remain in the nest about 28 days (nearly a month) and depend on their mother to bring them regular meals. If that’s not enough, the ruby-throated hummingbird is known to nest twice in a season. It certainly must rank a female hummingbird as one of the busiest of our summer birds. At the time I wrote this column, Monday and Tuesday had still not left the nest.

The young hummers have grown at an astonishing rate and Donna has witnessed their progress day by day. She noted that young hummers start off life with a short bill. Like the rest of their bodies, however, their bills have grown accordingly as Monday and Tuesday received regular feedings from Bliss.

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Photo Courtesy of Donna Ottinger                Having grown at a rapid pace, hummingbird chicks Monday and Tuesday find their nest growing rather cramped by mid-August.

Female hummingbirds receive no assistance from their mates. Males don’t assist with the rearing of their own young. For male hummingbirds, summer is mainly a time to thrive on the abundance of nectar-bearing blooms, as well as a profusion of tiny insects and spiders that also make up a good portion of their diet.

When I saw them, I knew that little Monday and Tuesday would be out of the nest in a short time. It would also be necessary for them to soon begin fall migration. On Aug. 23, Donna reported on her Facebook page that the young hummers had left the nest.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens                                   Bliss feeds her two young hummingbirds.

“Just three weeks after hatching, the baby hummers have both left the nest,” she wrote in her post. “They didn’t go far, and Bliss is still feeding them in a nearby tree where they have taken up new residence.”

The next generation of hummingbirds always helps swell the number of these tiny birds in our yards in late summer and early fall. Keeping visiting ruby-throated hummingbirds can be as simple as planting an abundance of the flowers they love, but offering multiple sugar water feeders also helps. Keep the sugar water mix at a four parts water to one part sugar ratio. Don’t offer honey in your feeders. When mixed with water, it can spoil and spread fungal diseases. Remember that hummingbirds don’t subsist on sugar water alone. They also eat numerous tiny insects and spiders to obtain the protein they need for their dietary needs, so don’t use insecticides near feeders or flowers that hummers are likely to visit.

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Photo Courtesy of Donna Ottinger  Monday and Tuesday find the nest increasingly crowded in the days before they fledged.

It was absolutely wondrous to observe Bliss and her babies. The experience has motivated me to keep a closer watch on the hummingbirds in my yard. There are female hummers present every summer. They have to be nesting somewhere, and I’d like to find a nest in my own yard.

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To learn more about birds and other topics from the natural world, friend Stevens on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ahoodedwarbler. He is always posting about local birds, wildlife, flowers, insects and much more. If you have a question, wish to make a comment or share a sighting, email ahoodedwarbler@aol.com.

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Photos Courtesy of Donna Ottinger            Monday and Tuesday share a compact nest.

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Bliss incubates her eggs at her nest in Bluff City, Tennessee.

Now that hummingbirds are back, here’s how to entice them to stay

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Photo Courtesy of Jean Potter                                                              Although hummingbirds migrate back to the region in the spring, their hosts will need to provide a welcoming environment to keep these tiny birds buzzing around the yard all summer.

Now that the hummingbirds have returned to the region, it’s important to know how to attract them and meet their needs. Like most living creatures, hummingbirds require three crucial things — shelter, water and food. A yard with evergreen trees or a thick hedge can provide perfect nighttime roosts for a hummingbird. Other types of trees and shrubs also offer potential nesting locations for female hummingbirds.
Hummingbirds, like all birds, need water. Hummingbirds can get a lot of their water in their diet, but they still need water for bathing. Birds bathe to keep their feathers in good condition. For hummingbirds, which are wizard aerialists among birds, it is even more crucial that their feathers are in good shape. A fountain, trickling waterfall or even a well-timed lawn sprinkler are almost magnetic in their attraction for hummingbirds, which are usually too small to bathe in a regular bird bath.

Keeping visiting ruby-throated hummingbirds can be as simple as planting an abundance of the flowers they love, but offering multiple sugar water feeders also helps. Keep the sugar water mix at a four parts water to one part sugar ratio. Don’t offer honey in your feeders. When mixed with water, it can spoil and spread fungal diseases. There’s also no need to use a solution with any sort of red dye. Studies have indicated that such dyes could have adverse effects on hummer health. Remember that hummingbirds don’t subsist on sugar water alone. They also eat numerous tiny insects and spiders to obtain the protein they need for their dietary needs, so don’t use insecticides near feeders or flowers that hummers are likely to visit.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens                                    By now, female Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are getting ready to build nests and raise young.

Follow these basic instructions and the hummingbirds will reward you with hours of enchanting entertainment this summer.
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I received even more notifications on the return of these tiny winged gems. Here are a few other shared observations: 
» Harold Randolph spotted his first hummingbird in 2016 on Monday, April 11, near Marion, North Carolina, at Lake James. He sent me an email to report the happy fact.
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» Philip Laws in Unicoi County reported on Facebook that he saw his first spring hummingbird on April 11.
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» Betty Poole asked her daughter to email me to report that she saw her first hummingbird of spring on Wednesday, April 13.
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» Steve Meigs, who lives at an elevation of 2,800 feet in Limestone Cove’s Foxhound Hills community near Unicoi, reported that his first hummingbird arrived April 14 at 11:30 a.m. “That’s a few days earlier than the last few years,” he noted on his Facebook comment.
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» John and Patsy Brenner welcomed back their first hummingbird on Monday, April 18. “I believe it was the ruby-throated, but all I really saw was the flash of green,” John wrote in an email. The Brenners live in Meade Meadows in Abingdon, Virginia. “We are on the seventh fairway of the golf course just across from the Creeper Trail,” he wrote. “We are new subdivision so around the houses there are only small trees. I have nesting bluebirds and tree swallows in a free-standing bird house.”
He also reported other daily sightings, including brown-headed cowbirds, doves, finches, cardinals, red-winged blackbirds, sparrows, robins, starlings and downy woodpeckers.
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» Judy Brown, who lives in Damascus, Virginia, notified me that she saw her first hummingbird of the season on Monday, April 18.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens                                Flowers and sugar water feeders are just two ways to attract hummingbirds to your yard.

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» Mary Beierle of the Stoney Creek community in Elizabethton, Tennessee, welcomed her first spring hummingbird at 6:13 p.m. on Monday, April 18.
“I am so happy!” Mary wrote in an email. “They are very late this year compared to other recent years. This morning there were two hummers and I’m pretty sure they are a male and a female. I have a friend in Jonesborough, Tennessee, who
had his first hummingbird the day before, around 9 in the morning.”
Mary was thrilled by their return. “Spring is finally officially here, in my opinion,” she noted.
» Eddie and Delores Phipps of  Bluff City, Tennessee, shared that their first sighting also took place on Monday, April 18. They had been out of town for the weekend, so they speculated that the hummingbirds might have showed up a day or two earlier.  
Constance Tate’s first sighting of a spring hummingbird involved not one, but two, birds. “There were two of them at the feeder at 3 p.m. on April 19,” she wrote in an email. Constance lives in Bristol, Tennessee, near Steele Creek.
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» Emory & Henry professor Steven Hopp sent me an email about his first hummer sighting on April 20. “I saw my first hummingbird this morning, when it went directly to the empty hummingbird feeder from last year,” he wrote. “I suppose that tells me she was a returning bird.”
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» Helen Whited informed me that hummers arrived at her home in Richlands, Virginia, on Tuesday, April 19.
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» Phyllis Moore of Bristol, Virginia, notified me by Facebook that she saw her first hummingbird of spring around 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 20.
“My first hummingbird just buzzed past my window where I hang my feeder,” reported Patricia Werth in an email. “I guess I better get busy.” Patricia’s sighting occurred at 6:05 p.m. on Wednesday, April 20.
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» Nancy Vernon of Bristol was very excited when she spotted two hummingbirds at her feeder today at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, April 20, in Bristol. “They are very small,” she said, adding that the sighing involved a male and female pair. 
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» Thia Montgomery, who lives in Blountville, Tennessee, reported that her first hummingbird arrived at about 2 p.m. on April 20. “I have three large terra-cotta pots with flowers, and each has a small shepherd’s hook sunk into it with a hummingbird feeder hung on each hook,” she wrote. “As I was watering the flowers in the pots, the hummingbird buzzed me, so I left off watering so he could have a drink.”
The insistent hummingbird — a male —was the first she had seen this year, although she has had her feeders out since the last week of March.
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» Cecilia Murrell of Abingdon,Virginia, has four feeders available for the hummingbirds, but the first one to show up on Thursday, April 21, fed at the nearly empty feeder. “Maybe he has visited me before,” she wrote in an email. 

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Photo by Donna Rea              This was the first hummingbird to visit the Rea residence in 2016.

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» Donna Rea shared on Facebook that hummingbirds had returned to her home in the Rock Creek community of Erwin.
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» James Noel Smith reported on Facebook on April 26 that hummingbirds are back at his home in Unicoi.
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To learn more about birds and other topics from the natural world, friend Stevens on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ahoodedwarbler. He is always posting about local birds, wildlife, flowers, insects and much more. If you have a question, wish to make a comment or share a sighting, email ahoodedwarbler@aol.comahoodedwarbler@aol.com.

 

Birds adopt many strategies for care of their young

One question that tends to pop up every June in my email or on Facebook concerns the presence of hummingbirds.  The status of hummingbirds at my own home since their arrival back in April has been somewhat sporadic. I think this has been noticed by some other people, too.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                                  A female Ruby-throated Hummingbird visits a feeders. Female hummingbirds in our yards in June and July are probably nesting residents.

The hummingbirds were scarce in April and May. When June arrived, their numbers began to increase.

However, this pattern that I saw this year is usually just the opposite. The hummingbirds are usually abundant in early spring, taper off in June and July, and then increase again in August and September. Basically, I think their numbers just naturally fluctuate. Some years we have more of them than other years.

There are other possibilities to explain the absence of hummingbirds. It’s always possible that hummingbirds, adhering to the philosophy that “the grass is always greener” elsewhere have taken to exploring a neighbor’s yard and gardens.

Hummingbirds, like many of the songbirds that spend the summer season with us, keep busy this time of year with the task of raising offspring. That alone could explain a temporary lull in their numbers in our yards and gardens.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                A young Eastern Towhee, not long out of the nest, looks for sunflower seeds in the grass beneath a feeder.

Many species of birds attempt to nest two or even three times during the summer nesting season. So far this year, I’ve observed nesting activity by a wide variety of birds, including Northern cardinals, brown thrashers, Eastern towhees, Eastern bluebirds, tree swallows, song sparrows, white-breasted nuthatches, Carolina wrens and downy woodpeckers.

All birds, from tiny hummingbirds that are mere inches long to an ostrich that can stand more than nine feet tall, start out as eggs. Birds have developed a range of ways to protect and incubate eggs to ensure the continuance of the species.

For many birds, the strategy is to produce as many young as possible in a limited amount of time. The hooded warbler, which spends the winter months in Central America, will usually make multiple nesting attempts in a season. The female constructs a cup-shaped nest, which is a design common to many of our songbirds. She will lay three to five eggs in the nest. Incubation of the eggs is a duty usually performed solely by the female, but her mate helps by guarding the nest and surrounding territory. Both parents feed the young once they have hatched after about two weeks.

Not all birds share in the task of caring for helpless young. For instance, the male ruby-throated hummingbird shows not the slightest inclination to assist the female with the duties of rearing young. All ruby-throated hummingbirds are raised by single mothers. Male hummingbirds spend the summer sipping nectar, dueling with other male hummers and courting multiple females.

Hooded warbler pairs, as is the case with many songbirds, share the work of feeding and tending young. Many of these young birds spend very little time in the nest after hatching. Hooded warblers have typically left the nest within nine days of hatching, although parents continue to feed the young as they learn to fly and care for themselves.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens                                    An Eastern phoebe fledgling perches on a tree branch.

Some birds, such as Northern Cardinals, often delegate the duty to the male for caring for young that have fledged from the nest. As the male trains and continues to feed the maturing young, the female cardinal often begins the work of building a second nest, laying another clutch of eggs and incubating them. Time is scarce. By getting a jump-start on a second nest, the female cardinal, if successful, may produce eight to ten new cardinals in a single nesting season.

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A painting of Brown-headed Cowbirds by John James Audubon.

Some birds, however, have bypassed the necessity of nesting altogether. If all hummingbirds are reared by females, then all young cowbirds are from foster homes, or nests. Female cowbirds slip their eggs into the nest of other unsuspecting songbirds. The hooded warbler is often a victim of this practice, which is known as “nest parasitism.” Some experts have conducted studies that indicate as many as 75 percent of hooded warblers in some areas are parents to cowbirds foisted on them.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens                                Young barn swallows in their nest await a delivery of food by their parents.

It’s not wise to condemn cowbirds for a behavior that would strike us as immoral. The peculiar reproduction strategy for the cowbird came about as a natural necessity. Cowbirds once followed the massive herds of bison across the North American continent, feeding on the insects and seeds displaced by the hooves of these huge animals. Since the bison herds stayed on the move, the cowbirds didn’t have the luxury of staying put for a couple of months to raise young.

The decimation of the bison herds could have proven a disaster for the cowbirds. That wasn’t the case, however, since these adaptable birds simply switched from following bison herd to doing the same with the enormous numbers of domestic cattle that inherited the range of the buffalo, or bison.

These are just a select few ways that birds succeed year after year in the never-ending effort to ensure the survival of the species for another generation. Many obstacles stand in their way. Any time you see birds bringing their babies to a feeder in your yard or a shrub in your garden, recognize this moment as a singular triumph for the labor and dedication our fine feathered friends have invested in this outcome.

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Photo Courtesy of Jean Potter                                                                                                                A young Red-eyed Vireo calls for food while concealed on the ground after leaving the nest. As is the case with most songbirds, parents continue to care for young even after they have left the nest.