I have encountered more active birds nests and seen more eggs and babies this year than in the rest of my life combined. Learning to notice bird language and behavior as a way to go deeper in connecting with the natural world has never been more important to me. It took years to get to the understanding I have now and the time seems to be coming to fruition this spring.
Here is a run down of most of what I observed.
This robin’s nest was in the garage on a shelf as it was the spot we keep them next to the wiper fluid and duct tape. The mother would stay on the nest if we walked through even though we would be about a foot away from her. If I hesitated even a little on my way by she would fly off. We watched the babies grow from one egg to three and then to fledglings. I did not notice them leave the nest, they were just gone one day. There was no sign of predation so I assume they are full grown now, probably still pestering their parents for food.
While on the deck I heard some intense little chipping sounds from the boxwood nearby. Sure enough inside was this tiny nest of chipping sparrows. They nest somewhere in the back yard every year, this was their most well hidden spot I have found so far. If not for the begging of the chicks I never would have discovered it.
Many of the nests I found were in the back yard. Because of this my daughter Gabby was able to check on some of them regularly like this bluebird nest in the bird house we put up a couple years ago. Pictured above is our last sighting, they looked almost ready to hop out for a few days on the ground before being able to fly. Their parents will still feed them for some time after they are full grown.
I also came across some non-bird baby animals too. Above are baby bunnies also in the back yard. Gabby and I were outside picking the wild asters in the lawn when I spotted a cottontail hopping into the un-weeded corner of my fathers garden. My gut told me there might be a bunny nest in there so I approached shortly after. Unfortunately I spooked the rabbit out of the garden. She had been right in the spot I was looking and I did not see her until she moved, her camouflage was so good. She had been feeding her babies in their nest. Cottontails dig a shallow depression for their young. The nest is also covered using fur the mother pulls from her own belly and other material, concealing the babies inside. This was done so well that when I returned the next day to show my father I had trouble finding the nest even though I knew right where it was. In fact my father had seen a red fox walk right by within a foot or two just a few days before with no sign of noticing anything.
The grey fur covering is just visible in the image above. This was after I reveled it slightly for the photo.
The unfortunate little creature above is an example of how tough life can be for young wildlife. This is a very young bat, likely a big brown bat, lying among the guano under a well used roost at White Memorial Conservation Center. It is so young in fact that its umbilical cord can be seen still attached and fresh. Many, in fact most, young wild animals don’t make it past their first year, often succumbing when quite young to disease, starvation and predation. I wonder if the mother of this bat did not come back to the roost, having met her own end, or if something else happened to this little one.
Back to birds. Killdeer belong to a longlegged group of birds called plovers. Most plovers are shorebirds and killdeer are often found at the shore and in wetlands though they nest in open country like fields and large gardens. This one was in a rarely used little beach adjacent to a small pond dozens of miles from the ocean. I only knew to look for it because of the behavior of the mother caused by my presence.
When killdeer and other birds (I have witnessed a similar behavior with a chipping sparrow in person) feel their nest is threatened they will act “injured” and lead the predator away from the nest. The killdeer might be the best known for this since their nests are on the ground and their display is rather dramatic (the chipping sparrow I saw did a less elaborate version). Hopping about while dragging a wing or both and flaring its tail, this killdeer appeared to be an injured and easy meal for a passing predator. I did follow her to get some images and once far enough away she returned to her normal fast run and left me behind. Here is some video of this encounter.
My favorite find of the summer, a chickadee nest in a rotten log. Chickadees are cavity nesters who, not possessing a woodpecker’s strong beak still excavate their own cavities. They find decaying wood and dig out a space for themselves. In this case in an old stump. Another chickadee nest I once spotted was high in a dead birch branch. This time I was able to get right up close and even see the mother sitting on her eggs. As you can see the bottom was well lined with soft fibers for the eggs. Not all cavity nesters make such a plush lining for their babies.
Spots on eggs are created as the egg is laid by glands in the mother’s birth canal. Most bird species that keep their eggs well hidden in a cavity or nest box have plain looking eggs, not needing camouflage. You can see the very effective camouflage on the Killdeers eggs in their ground nest above. The chickadee eggs though are spotted despite being in a hole in a log. I do not know what is going on here, I only found the nest because I witnessed the parent birds going in and out of the cavity and once I looked inside the spotting was not nearly enough to fool me or any egg robber worth the label. Maybe there is a yet to be understood benefit from such markings. They are rather beautiful and that alone feels beneficial to me.