From Our Backyard, A Monthly Column Written by Charles
The sights and sounds of spring validate our yard as a haven for plants, wildlife, and birds. In the woodlot we’ve set up small enclosures to keep the deer from browsing every leaf and bloom. Inside the corrals May Apples rise up and open their leafy umbrellas. Jack sits in his shady pulpit and Bloodroot springs forth from the leaf litter. The latest scurry of Squirrels scamper about chasing tails and wrestling with each other. The sweet lyrical song of a Wood Thrush is heard and the Woodpeckers hammer at snags for insects and nesting cavities. A litter of Fox kits peek from the burrowed hole in the abandoned quarry. High above canopies of Beech, Oak, and Maple interlock and stretch their greening limbs toward the warm sun. The foliage crowds out all but a few beams of sunlight from reaching yesteryear's parchment like leaves at my feet.
The lush landscape is alive with overgrowing plants and a multitude of lifeforms. Plants that were tame and manageable a month ago now seem to grab at me when I walk past. It’s like a bad Science Fiction movie titled Planet of the Swarming Plants. Deer seemingly swim through tall grassland and herds of rabbits nibble at the short grass. Given the price of gas and the lack of raggedy spaces for nature in our neighborhood we’ve decided to cut even less lawn this year. We’re just creating pathways through much of our acreage. When ambling along, we feel a part of nature. The pollinators are loving the clover and buttercups that have been given a chance to grow. All pruning is delayed as birds are nesting in every bush and tree adding another aspect of life to the greenery.
One way to gauge the viability of your yard when it comes to the nesting season is to note which species are calling and which are visiting your feeders. I figure that any birds I hear or see in our yard at this time of year are most likely nesting nearby. One reason a bird might choose your yard for nesting is the shelter, be it a bush or birdhouse, they can find there. Another is the type of natural foods they can find for their young, insects being the most beneficial. Combined they make your yard a safe place to raise their young. I’ve witnessed this behavior in two of my favorite birds. During their first nesting the adult Bluebirds snacked on mealworms and then flew directly to the nest box with some draped in their beak. The Chickadee parents are still feverishly flying about seeking caterpillars for their five feathered young. After they fledge, the parents may bring the young to your feeders. We’ve already seen families of House Finches at our feeders. The young are quickly recognizable by their incessant peeping and the stray tufts of feathers on their head give them the appearance of having horns. With all the effort the adults are putting into raising their young they need a reliable source of food. That’s where bird feeding in the spring comes in. Your feeders are a practical and efficient source of food. The five types of Woodpeckers visiting our suet feeders are probably nesting in our wooded knoll. There dead trees, offer nesting sites and insects for growing families.
My weekly nest checks reveal the cheeriness and tragedy of nesting season. The Bluebirds had a difficult spring battling those dreaded house sparrows. They’ve moved into different bird houses for their second nesting. House Wrens have started moving into several nest boxes. They tend to fill the house with an indeterminable amount of twigs. After a late arrival the Purple Martins are just beginning to build nests. They only have about two months and then take wing back to Brazil. I caught a Martin in a gourd. When I turned the bird over I discovered a band on her leg. From the numbers I discovered she was banded as a fledgling in 2019 at the Ashland Nature Center. This particular Martin has traveled between Delaware and Brazil 6 times. A distance of almost 5000 miles each way. WOW! Your regular avian visitors like Cardinals and Titmice don’t travel that much in a lifetime. Not all nesting is successful. For many reasons eggs don’t hatch, fledglings survive, and the first weeks of flying are fraught with hazards and predators.
Don’t worry if you’re not seeing Hummingbirds. The early visitors made their way further north. The ones that find your yard suitable for nesting and food will appear soon. After last weekend’s hot harbinger of summer I switched to using suet dough. Unfortunately the screeching Starling fledglings stuff their maw with it. Time to get out the caged suet feeder.
Grumping bullfrogs and high pitched peepers are grateful for the occasional downburst. While the garter snake appreciates a sunny spot on the wall. Towhees sing their sweet song of tea drinking from a secretive spot. Spring is inspiring and sublime if you open your eyes and ears.
Happy Birding, Charles Shattuck