Hockessin, Delaware



From Our Backyard


We tend to forget that not all nesting behavior occurs in the spring. My recent visits to nest boxes, Bird Box trails and the Purple Martin colonies I monitor reveal summer nesting is in flux. I watched as the last of the Tree Swallows were fledging from one birdhouse. The adults circled about encouraging the young to take that first leap. One brave soul flitted out and tumbled earthward into the tall grasses. I scooped it up and placed him back inside the box so as to give him another chance. In other houses I found both Carolina and House Wrens busily feeding naked hatchlings. Minuscule life forms no bigger than a dime. I took a quick head count and moved along. I found several boxes with fresh Bluebird nests within. Last week the boxes were empty now they held sky blue eggs. By my records some Bluebirds are working on their second and perhaps third nesting of the season. The pair behind the store are feeding the feathered young of their second nesting. By removing old nests once a family is finished with it you allow the opportunity for other birds to nest. The Tree Swallows are a migratory species so after they fledge I’ll discard the old nesting material. This way if a Bluebird or Wren wish to build a nest to call home it’s cleaned out.

I’ve been assisting regional banders who visit Purple Martin colonies. We attach silver bands on the young as a way of identifying them in the future. The band is encoded with an individual number for each bird. This is recorded with information on the bird, date and location of banding. If this bird was found in the future this information would create a baseline for its life. This week as we banded martins we discovered a greater disparity in ages then I’ve ever seen. Some birds are ready to fledge while others are just hatching. That’s a difference of up to 25 days. I’m not sure if it can be attributed to the lingering wet spring weather or the late arrival of some birds. My yard looks like the Amazon jungle but I know not to prune until nesting season is over. There are birds nesting in every overgrown bush and tree.

The feeders have been full of activity some decorous and some ruthless. The woodpeckers brought their young to the suet feeder. The adults would stuff the gapping squealing maw of the fledgling with suet until it was satisfied. I observed this behavior with the Red-belly, Hairy and Downy woodpeckers. Adult Cardinals led the brownish babies to the seed tray and then demonstrated how to peck for food by picking up a seed and placing it into their beak. Afterwards the young were on their own. All was fine then the Blackbirds hatched forth. Such a tumultuous raucous rabble of Grackles and glass on chalkboard sounding Starlings from sun until all the feed was devoured. In order to allow my favorite Chickadees and Nuthatches to eat I enclosed my tube feeders in cages. It keeps the larger birds out and saves not only food but a place at the table for the smaller birds.

I woke in the pitch dark hour of 2 AM. All was silent except a tinging coming from the window screen. A plucking sound of something climbing. My sleepy mind grasped at likely nocturnal suspects. Then I saw a silhouette creep from overhead like a furry Spiderman. Heck we have a new species in our yard; a Flying Squirrel. Maybe that’s why the bedroom lights mysteriously stopped working the other day.   

Happy Birding, Charles Shattuck

Love Your Birds, Love Your Cat; Keep Your Cat Inside

July 2017