Friday, January 7, 2011

Birds in Review Part IV A Nest of One's Own A Home Within A Hidden Habitat

Springs return is fabulous, for the fresh greens and fragrant blossoms that unfurl, but equally exciting is the return of beloved birds that fill the air with song and colorful shows. The gardens are more alive again with sensual flora and fauna of wondrous and spirited animation. I become excited, when seeing a flash of orange or upon hearing the rich, lovely songs and calls of the Baltimore Orioles.

 Every year now for several years, a couple arrive and choose the same spot in 'Michael's Tree' . . . the serpentine Black Cherry in the north field . . . to weave their nest. Well, actually more than one couple returns! Once the female Baltimore Oriole and her mate agree over the site, the female becomes absorbed in creating a temporary shelter for rearing their young. The bolder colored black-hooded male will help out a bit here and there, but his main role is mostly that of a guardian at this stage. I have seen both birds upside down in the nest at times, as if the male might be helping out with the weaving. He will readily spar with any other male, who tries to overstep into their selected territory. 

Of all the birds that reside here none can match the skill of the female Baltimore Oriole in both her gathering of material and the finely woven pouch-like nest she creates, whilst upside down no less. 

Knowing that she has flown for around one hundred fifty miles a day for weeks and had to fly for twenty-four hours straight over the Gulf of Mexico, I feel so honored that she chooses Flower Hill Farm, as her preferred breeding ground.

She does spend a good amount of time upside down also in selecting dried hollow shoots of grass or some other plant left in the garden, to give birds ample supplies for nest building. I was amazed to watch her actually pull one thin fibrous thread down at a time, from these long sheaths. She then gathers them together and flies over to her nest in progress. 

This is what her nest looks like in the beginning, lit up by the new day sun.

Slowly the threads of varied material will be woven into a safe and sturdy pouch. 

I have spied other birds flying over to check out her intricate handiwork.  

The beautiful male is often perching nearby and regularly calls out to his partner . . . I imagine to know that she is safe. Their musical calls back and forth fill the garden with refreshing sounds and dimensions. Their voices also alert me to where they are . . . so that I might walk camera in hand to hopefully capture some images.

Nearly finished . . . you can see the females yellow orange body peeking out along the bottom left. She is busy at work securing the final touches. 

Later on . . .  maybe a week of weaving and all is secure and ready for precious placement of eggs. Around four more weeks will pass by before we get a glimpse of the young ones. This will be the pairs only brood. The hidden clutch can be up to seven, but I only saw two youngsters emerge last year. I will share the fledglings in an upcoming post. These striking birds prefer the highest tree in an open field  and the native Black Cherry is just that. 
I enjoy seeing the nest hanging from the tip of a leafy branch . . . though sometimes I wonder how the securely hidden baby birds can bear being whipped about by the wind so. The parents enjoy swimming in sweet blossoms and gleaning for insects and caterpillars for themselves and their young. They also love a variety of fruit. I wonder if they eat the wild black cherries growing near their nest? I so hope they come back this year! They have a difficult and dangerous migration back from their winter sites in Mexico or other southern hot and humid regions. 

For a very different sort of bird in colors, size and habits . . . these little Pine Siskins seem to be trying out an old Robins nest. I have seen other birds do a bit of renovation on abandoned nests and raise their young in the restored digs. Quite different from the intense efforts put forward by the female Baltimore Oriole.

These accommodations were not suitable to the Pine Siskins. It was sweet to see them in the same nest I had watched Robins rear their young in the year before.

Perhaps they were just passing through and took time for a bit of rest within the nest.

A Gray Catbird perches, its mouth stuffed with dried grasses, right below my barn studio door. The female can take up to six days to build her nest. Catbirds have been known to live up to 17 years. This bird is a skulker and will at times break eggs of other birds. I sometimes have up to three broods in the garden at the same time. Catbirds particularly love nesting within the berry producing shrubberies. Having sometimes as many as six adult Catbirds feeding their young, they can do serious damage to butterflies and are quite greedy in regards to Elderberries, Blueberries, Currants and other berries. I have never noticed any other birds chasing them, but I do wish they would leave the butterflies alone. It is hard to have a bird sanctuary along side a butterfly haven. It saddens me to see so many tattered Swallowtail wings. I do wish birds did not see butterflies only as flying caterpillars! 
I hope you will return for my next post, where I will share Bluebirds and Tree Swallows, as they build their nests in boxes and reveal the name and deeds of a . . .  much beloved by many . . .  banished bird culprit. It is Blooming Friday at Katarina's Roses and Stuff. You might enjoy visiting to see what is hidden in other gardens the world over. 
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