Tag Archive | wild birds

Phoebe Family

The phoebes are busy with their little family, on top of the floodlight beside our back door.  It is cute and sweet and endearing to have them as tenants, but I sure wish they’d leave already!  So happy to see the young ones nearly fledged.  The Eastern Phoebe is a friendly bird that likes to nest near people.  They build under eaves to protect the nest from rain since the female uses a great quantity of mud for construction.  Nesting close to humans must help protect the young from attack by more shy animals.

Unfortunately, having birds so close to the house makes the cats crazy.  For a good part of the spring, the door must be kept closed or the cats climb the screen trying to catch the birds.  And the birds yell at the cats incessantly.  Keeping the door closed all the time is an inconvenience.  I’d love to open it and let the spring breezes flow through the house.  Since the birds are quite territorial, it is also aggravating to hang up laundry.  The clothes lines are apparently way too close for the birds’ comfort (maybe 15-20 feet away.)  They scold and squawk every time we put out the wash.  Hey, birds, you picked the spot, quit your fussing!

One fall I took down the nest, hoping that would dissuade the birds from returning.  No good.  The female busily built again in the spring.  This year, she tried to nest beside the front door.  Luckily, I caught her early before she did much building and blocked the area.  So she went up back and reused her old nest.

These little flycatchers are nice to have around since they prey on wasps, mosquitoes and black flies.  It’s fun to see the babies up close and to listen to the adults say their name as they call.  You can always spot the phoebe by the way its tail bobs as it perches.  Plus, at our house, it’s the bird yelling at you and swooping close.  The adult sexes appear very similar, although the male is slightly larger and darker than the female.  I believe the male is in the photo on the left.

Only the female builds the nest and she is quite a little architect.  She piles on clay mud and lines the nest with soft moss and fluff the dogs shed.  Both parents struggle to catch enough bugs to feed everyone.  While the babies grow, the parents spend the entire day catching insects and bringing them to the nest.  The bad news about phoebes is they like to have two broods per year.  So the tantalizing of cats and annoying of humans will likely continue here for at least another month.

Baby Birds

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As I drove my tractor past the star magnolia tree yesterday I happened to glance that way and was startle to see three pairs of big, frightened eyes staring back at me.  After parking the tractor I went to take a peek. Three baby birds nestled in the grass at the base of the tree.  They were not so afraid now that the huge, loud machine was gone.  They even open their beaks, begging me to feed them.  Their colorful maws make excellent targets for the parents to hit.DSC07244

The bright yellow feathers on their tails helped me to identify these baby birds as young cedar waxwings. Every year the waxwings flock to our farm to feast on the highbush blueberries.  I often suspected generations of birds were raised on the berries.  Now I’m certain.  With two hundred bushes loaded with blueberries that can reach the diameter of a quarter, there is plenty of food for all.

Today I checked the spot again and the baby birds were gone.  They seemed fully fledged and ready to fly.  I hope they are enjoying our berries.

Osprey Offspring

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The osprey on Hog Island here in Maine have hatched some babies!  I took this shot this morning from the live webcam of the nest.  You can see one hatchling looking out from the right side of the mother.  It has a black stripe by its eye.  Looks like two of the three eggs hatched.

I’ve periodically monitored mother osprey over the past 40 days as she patiently sits on the nest through heat and cold, high winds and rain.  One damp day in the drizzle her wings were beaded with rain.  On a scorching sunny day she stood over the eggs panting, casting a shadow to keep the eggs from overheating. Her diligence has paid off!

I have yet to see her mate.  Supposedly he is off hunting food for her.  He must be doing something since she survived the incubation.  Now both parents will be hard pressed to find fish to feed their rapidly growing, hungry babies.

Watch the osprey on the Audubon webcam site:  http://explore.org/live-cams/player/osprey-nest

Ospreys

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Here is a snapshot I took this morning off the live cam of an osprey nest on Hog Island in Maine.  Yesterday I watched two ospreys fly over our farm.  I have never seen these birds in our area although there is an established nest about seven miles from us near the Kennebec River in Benton.

It was the loud, seabird-like call that first got my attention.  Ospreys are very large birds that form a distinctive M shape with their wings as they fly.  The pair I watched soared with the thermals over our farm for about ten minutes before sliding off below the horizon.  They made a lot of noise as they flew.

Ospreys were nearly wiped out in New England by the use of DDT.  The insecticide got into the food chain and concentrated in the bodies of the big predators at the top of the chain such as the hawks and eagles.  DDT causes egg shells to thin to such a degree that they crack during incubation.  The birds are unable to reproduce.  Since the banning of DDT in the US, osprey and bald eagle populations have made a comeback.  It is no longer as rare to spot these birds, especially bald eagles.

Ospreys incubate their eggs for 40 days with the pair sharing incubation duty, although the male tends to do more food bringing to the female on the nest.  There is also a nice osprey nest to watch on Osprey Island at Wolf Neck Woods State Park here in Maine.  Here is a shot I took last year of the island.  The nest is at the top of the scraggly pine near the center of the island.Wolf Neck

Here is a link to a page where they have recorded the sound an osprey makes:  http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Osprey/id

The recording is in the link below the silhouette of a hawk, right where it says “typical voice.”  Or click on the “Sounds” tab to hear various calls.

Here is the link to the live web cam of the nesting ospreys on Hog island:

http://explore.org/live-cams/player/osprey-nest

Caution–watching the ospreys can become addicting!

English Sparrows

a1English or House sparrows are flying varmints usually found in large flocks.  They are an introduced species, not native to North America.  The sparrows have made themselves right at home.  We must have two dozen of the things plaguing our bird feeders this year.  They’ve never been around in such numbers before.

The birds are little better than flying rats. They consume huge amounts of food and put bird droppings over everything. At night they like to bunk down in the barn, leaving a coating of bird mess behind. When they aren’t raiding the feeders in large gangs, they steal from the chickens, flying right into the coops to take feed.

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A couple English sparrows share with the mourning doves

This year we are going through more wild bird food than ever.  We put out about fifteen dollars worth of food each week.  I try to get the best savings by purchasing black oil sunflower seeds and safflower seeds in bulk then combining those seeds with the whole oat/cracked corn mix I give the chickens as scratch.  Most wild birds will take the black oil sunflower seeds, cardinals like safflowers seeds, mourning doves eat oats and corn. English sparrows eat everything, very messily.  They throw a good majority of the food directly on the ground.  If other birds don’t pick it up quickly it is lost under the snow.

I would very much like to ping these pesky sparrows with a pellet pistol or trap them with nets.  My husband says no, he can’t bear the thought of eradicating the poor little things.  I explained they are nearly doubling the cost of feeding the wild birds, but that isn’t convincing enough.  Since he’s paying for most of the bird food, I guess the sparrows get to stay.a3

By summer we will likely have fifty or so to contend with.  At that point they will begin to steal chick food, fouling as they go, and I will get rid of the flying pests.  The biggest concern for me is the sparrows introducing salmonella into the feed.  Salmonella is carried by chickens with little adverse effect.  When humans are exposed via raw meat and eggs, salmonella does its damage.

These little feathered devils can make big messes.  They are especially troublesome at one of my local feed supply stores.  The store has a very large warehouse with wide bay doors that are kept open during the day. English sparrows call the warehouse home.  There are several dozen in residence.  Enough grain spills to keep them well fed.  Often a worker will load a bag of grain in my car that is soiled with bird droppings.  It’s gotten so bad the store has started playing a tape of predatory bird calls to try to frighten the sparrows away.  I can’t see that it’s working very well.

My mother, who lives in England, says English sparrows are in decline there.  How I wish I could net several thousand of the nasty things and ship them to her.  They are thriving in their adopted land.

Hungry Birds

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The chilly weather and snow cover have brought hungry birds to the feeders.  This year we bought a new 30″ long seed feeder so we wouldn’t have to refill our 12″ one every day.  The woodpeckers were particularly insistent on being fed.  It took me a few days to dig their suet out of the chest freezer and hang food for them in a mesh bag.  I figured there must still be bugs in dead trees out in the woods that they could eat, so I wasn’t in a hurry.

Just to let me know what I slacker I was, several woodpeckers pounded their beaks on the side of the house and a couple flew right up to the window and looked in to see what was taking me so long.  It became impossible to ignore these birds.  Their hammering on the cedar siding was very annoying.  As soon as the suet was hung, the birds were eating.  It’s been nearly a week since I put food out and they’ve devoured at least a half pound of suet.  I wonder what these birds did to survive before humans started feeding them?a2

Wild Turkeys

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Turkeys scavenging under the apple trees.

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Working under the bird feeder

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Wild turkeys roam our land.  This was not always so.  As a child, I never saw or heard a turkey on the farm.  Where turkeys had historically been plentiful, they were extinct by the 1960s when my family moved to the farm.  Through the efforts of the State, the wild turkey has been very successfully re-introduced to its Maine range.

The large, wary birds are seen often.  The toms call in the woods. Whole families of hens, toms and poults roam the fields.  I’ve watched two tom turkeys battle for hours at the bottom of our pasture, until one finally gave up and ran.  Then, in a matter of seconds, they were best friends again, eating grass shoots side-by-side.  I was able to collect several beautiful feathers that fell from the colorful male birds during the tussle.  I have a whole vase full of turkey feathers picked up on our land.  Most have a gorgeous purple iridescent sheen.  The striped ones are flight feathers, the tall two-tone brown are tail feathers, and the other, square-ended plumes are all body feathers.

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I love to see these wild birds.  Their comeback is a major success story, I think, righting a wrong done by our ancestors.  Some don’t agree with me, they think the turkeys eat food that would otherwise sustain deer.  I say turkeys and deer cohabited here for millenia before whiteman arrived and that is the way it was meant to be.  The deer herd is large and healthy.  For certain, there are enough apples in our orchard to go around.  Turkey and deer prints lace the orchard snow.

The recent foot of fresh powder snow makes an excellent canvas for recording wildlife activity. Yesterday I found a spot where three turkeys took flight. The marks are obvious in the snow. The entire wing imprint is evident, the primary and secondary feathers beating against the snow to help push the heavy bird into the air. The furrow left in the snow by the tail and undercarriage of the bird quickly decreases as the body becomes airborne. Here is the trace left by one of the turkeys in the snow.

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Turkey flight path, bird flying directly toward the viewer.

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Direction of flight toward the top of the photo, the indents of the individual primary and secondary flight feathers in the snow, and the furrow left by the body.

One Thanksgiving Day we were visited by eleven wild turkeys in our front yard.  Guess no one told them what was on the menu!  I have surprised a group of more than twenty birds in the orchard or the blueberry patch.   The sight of so many huge birds taking to the air at once is amazing.

I hope we will always enjoy the company of these lovely wild birds.  Now if only man could clone and re-introduce the passenger pigeon.  I would love to witness the fabled endless clouds of migrating pigeons that our ancestors enjoyed, just before they killed and ate them all.