Raising their brood

On these long hot summer days, it is easy to lose motivation and forfeit birding. Yet late summer birding is packed with exciting discoveries. Around our homes, fledglings are turning up at the feeder, and in the meadows, goldfinch are nesting even while in the woods and shorelines other birds are heading south.

Although the mornings have grown quieter now that most birds are through breeding, there is a new sound being heard across the land. It is the sound of fledgling birds gaining strength and demanding food from their parents. Our common birds are well into the new phase of raising their offspring and getting them ready for independence. In the past few weeks, you may have witnessed these young birds as they follow their parents to your feeders, but if you watch closely, each sighting will provide an opportunity to observe specific behavior. I find it fascinating because each species has a different experience raising their brood.

Blue jays, for example, take the prize for being the most overprotective parents. They stay right with the fledglings and watch their every move. Likewise, the young jays seem to be the most demanding. Their cries can be heard all through the summer. In fact, the parents continue to feed them even in September when they appear full grown.

Hairy woodpeckers, on the other hand, disperse from their parents quickly. The young are strong flyers upon leaving the nest, and they learn to find food in just a few weeks. Chickadees are independent in just 26 days from hatching. The parents often drive them away if they linger too long. When you see chickadees at your suet feeder, listen for the “phoebeee” call, which is only given by the male during this time. It is an indication his offspring are somewhere close waiting to be fed.

And as these birds finish with their offspring, the American goldfinch is just beginning its nesting phase. It is one of the few birds that starts nesting in mid-summer. They time it that way so they can take advantage of the abundance of wild seeds now available. If you venture out into a meadow, you might hear the male singing as he flies in circles above his territory.

With the eerie quiet on these late summer mornings, I find myself meandering the meadows frequently to hear the last territorial songs of the season. Perhaps, this, more than any other reason, is why I cherish the goldfinch: they keep the summer alive with song for a few more weeks. On the hot days, however, I make my way into deep woods, where in June the ethereal flute-like notes of the wood thrush ring clear.

It is there that I can sometimes find a Canada warbler heading south; they spend little time on their boreal breeding grounds. Like many breeding birds of the far north, Canada warblers are eager to begin the long journey immediately after their young fledge. Shorebirds are the perfect example; they arrive on the Arctic tundra early and quickly return south. Some migrate over 20,000 kilometers a year, which requires a brief breeding season. Now is the time when they begin to turn up at quiet beaches and muddy lakeshores.

So stay motivated, lest you miss out on the late summer action. It is a dynamic time with goldfinch still nesting, fledglings and juveniles at the feeders, and northern migrants heading south. The post breeding season makes for great birding.

Robert Tougias is a birding author based in Colchester. He is available to answer your questions at rtougias@snet.net



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