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THROUGH THE WOODS: Our young birds

Baby killdeer. Photo by Nancy Jane Kern

THIS IS THE SEASON when most birds are working on their first or only nesting cycle, and when we observe the results of the parents’ hard labor. And it is hard work. The Canada warbler for example may feed insects to their young at a rate of dozens of trips per hour. Our smallest area birds, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, must eat at least half their weight in food each day, then, in addition, they are gathering more to feed their young. They rarely sit still and fly from flower to flower, and I am sure are very grateful to all who provide them with sugar water filled feeders.

It is important to use the recommended mixture of one part granulated white sugar plus four parts water (1/4 cup sugar plus one cup water in a saucepan heated until the sugar is just dissolved, and then cooled). A more concentrated mixture can harm the birds. Hummingbirds are attracted to the color red, but they are very happy with clear colored sugar water too. I do not add red food coloring. The mixture can be stored in the refrigerator for a week. Discard it if there is discoloration or mold.

I have tried many different types of hummingbird feeders, but by far the best are made by Droll Yankee. They are attractive, very easy to clean and refill, are durable and exceptionally functional. After the feeder is hung, clean it, and change the sugar water at least twice per week and whenever it looks cloudy. Your reward will be great views of these jewel-like birds and hopefully they will bring their bumblebee sized young when they have fledged.

Other bird youngsters can be found in our local hay fields and include several important species such as the beautiful yellow, black and white male Bobolinks; the lovely voiced eastern meadowlark singing “sweet summer’s day”; and several sparrow species such as field, Savannah, song, and grasshopper. These birds nest in the grass and help us by eating insects, larvae and weed seeds. Our farmers are cutting hay now and this can be devastating to nesting birds. The adults and already fledged birds can escape the machinery, but nests with eggs and babies are destroyed. The opportunists, like crows, will walk the mowed fields and eat the eggs and dead.

I am an old farm kid and understand the need to harvest two or three cuttings per season especially in these difficult times of rising fuel prices, etc. We tried hard to wait and hay in late June. Ideally, it is recommended to wait until July 1 to mow, but this is asking a lot. It hurts to see cleared fields and I always hope the birds will successfully nest again during the next haying period. I am sure many do, and without our farmers there would not be maintained grasslands for the birds to return to each year.

If you mow or bush hog fields just to keep them clear, please consider waiting until fall. Bobolinks have been decreasing in numbers and need all the help we can give them.

Another hazardous place for young birds is roads. I have seen them sitting there in a state of confusion with cars going over them or around them. Sometimes a stressed parent bird will be hit trying to coax baby to safety. Please keep an eye out for them.

The baby killdeer in the photo was in the road. Mama ran to the grass road edge and fortunately all three babies followed. Notice the tiny size of the bird compared to the white clover blossom at the bottom left.

I have had a wonderful time at the pond in the Hudson Cedar Park Cemetery watching the goslings of the Canada Geese. They have tight family units with one parent leading the way and one watching behind the goslings. In the water the parents will sometimes put their heads below the water and look for hidden danger. Snapping turtles can easily pull down a gosling and have a nice meal.

Some other bird parents such as ruffed grouse and killdeer will lead you away from their young with their wounded bird act of crying and wing dragging while their brood run in all directions and hide. If you have the opportunity to observe this behavior, watch where the parent started, and you may get a glimpse of a cute chick or two. Sometimes they flap their little wings and fly a few feet away. Absolutely adorable!

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