|Photo courtesy of Don DesJardin|
This time of year most birds are thinking about their biological reason for existence: reproduction. If you watch and listen to the birds in your yard you can easily pick up on these cues. You may have noticed the early mornings are a bit noisier lately, this is because male songbirds are advertising and attempting to attract mates. They use their song to defend the territory from other males, and they also sing to attract females. If you are able to watch them for a while, you may be lucky enough to observe other behaviors associated with breeding.
If you see a bird carrying something in its bill, pay attention to where it goes and what it does with its load. It could be carrying material with which to construct its nest. During this season of courtship males may bring their prospective mate an attractive food item to demonstrate their prowess. For example, male flycatchers will often bring their mates big showy insects like butterflies and dragonflies, presumably to impress or to demonstrate their hunting capability. Later in the season, they will be bringing food to feed hungry females stuck on the nest incubating eggs. After this, the eggs will become nestlings that will need to be fed constantly. Being a bird parent is a busy business, and involves a lot of food-carrying!
It is now a few hours later, and while I am strolling around the block, I see a Northern Mockingbird hop into a dense hedgerow with a mouth full of dried grass stems. To the field-trained eye, this behavior is clearly associated with nest-building. This particular hedgerow is about 100 yards from my house, so I wonder if this bird is one of the pair I have been watching in my Tree-of-Heaven. Now that I have discovered the location of a nest, I can pay attention to various clues to tell me if the Mockingbirds in my yard are the same ones using my neighbor’s hedgerow. I will start to cue in on which direction the birds come and go from, I will listen for how close other Mockingbirds are, and if I am lucky I will be able to follow one from my yard to my neighbor’s. By paying attention to these little things, I am able to interpret so much about the birds that share the neighborhood with me.
You can do the same thing in your yard, if you notice a particular bird hangs around a lot, stay put and watch it for a while. Maybe you will get the chance to see it carry some fruit from your ornamental shrub to its mate that is waiting just around the corner. Maybe it has even decided your yard has enough resources to sustain its brood this year. By paying attention to the subtle things they are doing, you can learn a lot about them and their world. At the end of the season you may even be lucky enough to see them toting a brood of clumsy, fuzzy, fledglings around the yard!