Chickadees don’t migrate(*) but they’re a big help when you’re looking for migrating songbirds in late September.
Waves of warblers are still passing through Pennsylvania but they’re usually silent and hidden by leaves so you probably won’t see them … unless you listen for chickadees.
Black-capped and Carolina chickadees are vocal experts on the local scene. They know the best places to find food and where the predators lurk. And they’re such chatterboxes! Visiting migrants clue into chickadee locations and often stay with them in mixed flocks.
At this time of year don’t ignore the local, vocal birds. They may have visitors with them.
(photo by Cris Hamilton)
(* Well, I’ve since heard that some chickadees do go places … but others stay behind.)
Lest we think that peregrines are the only birds that fight, take a look at this slow motion video of dueling sharp-tailed grouse from Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Though they don’t have meat-tearing beaks and sharp talons these grouse are doing some damage to each other.
You won’t see this in August, even if you’re at the northern grasslands they call home. Fighting is an activity that sharp-tailed grouse reserve for springtime courtship. The males gather at the lek (courtship stomping grounds) and mix it up to prove who’s best.
At this time of year most birds have stopped breeding and are starting to flock for the coming winter. Many of us have noticed grackle flocks and soon, I’m sure, we’ll see flocks of brown-headed cowbirds.
The fact that young cowbirds flock with each other is a miracle in itself. Every one of them was dumped as an egg in another species’ nest where they out-competed their foster parents’ young. Imprinting behavior says they ought to think they’re members of the foster species, but they don’t.
How do cowbirds know they are cowbirds? Click here to find out in this Throw Back Thursday article.
(photo of an immature brown-headed cowbird by Cephas at Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)
Early July is a great time to watch songbird families. Many baby birds have just fledged and are still dependent on their parents for food … or they would like to be.
Marcy Cunkelman sees the family interactions up close in her birds-and-butterflies garden. Here are some of her family portraits.
Above, we see that fledglings are the same size as their parents but don’t always look like them. You can tell they’re related by their actions as this young chipping sparrow begs for food while his parent leans away from the noise! The juvenile’s stripes provide camouflage but make him resemble a song sparrow more than the pale, plain-chested adult.
Below, a tree swallow feeds her newly fledged baby. Since swallows capture insects on the wing, the juveniles have to fly well enough to catch bugs before they’re able to feed themselves.
And below, a downy woodpecker offers a seed to his baby. When the babies are young the parents lead them to the feeders and offer them seeds. Pretty soon the juveniles figure out that it’s faster to get the seeds on their own.
Soon the youngsters will be independent. Meanwhile you’ll see them say, “Feed me!”
p.s. Wissahickon Nature Club will have an outing to Marcy’s garden this coming Saturday, July 12. Click here for details.