Friday, June 25, 2010

Song Sparrows in the Nursery

On Wednesday we were pleased to discover that a family of song sparrows (Melospiza melodia) has decided to make their nest in our nursery! Inside a tight-growing rose bush, tucked at the bottom of the foliage, we spied five little chicks. As we peered into the nest, the parents called and flew nearby, clearly agitated by our presence. We quickly snapped a photo and retreated.

Song Sparrows get their name because of their beautiful song, which we have been hearing for several months around the ACEC and on Norm's Island. We live right on the border of their year-round and summer-only ranges. I have yet to see one in the winter, so I believe in our location we are witnessing birds that have recently migrated back from more southern climes. As stated on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's website, "The Song Sparrow sings a loud, clanking song of 2–6 phrases that typically starts with abrupt, well-spaced notes and finishes with a buzz or trill. In between, the singer may add other trills with different tempo and quality. The song usually lasts 2-4 seconds." Adult sparrows are rich brown-grey with streaking down their breast, which converge in a central breast spot. They are medium-sized and fairly bulky. The tail is long and rounded, and the wings are broad.

Apparently, the base of rose bushes is a common site for a song sparrow nest. The female sparrow will build the nest; it is a simple, sturdy cup of loose grasses, weeds, and bark on the outsides, lined with softer, tidier grasses and animal hair. Finished nests are 4 - 8 inches across and 2 - 4 inches deep. The female will lay 1 - 8 eggs, and incubate them for 12 - 15 days. Newborn sparrows are naked with a little black down, and have their eyes closed. They will remain in the nest as "nestlings" for 9 - 12 days. The ones that we observed were probably several days old. Their eyes were wide open, as were their beaks as they awaited food from their parents!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Baltimore Oriole in the garden

The feeders in our habitat garden have been primarily populated by red-winged blackbirds and house finches. But today a new, brilliantly-colored orange bird arrived in the garden. We thought at first that it was a Bullock's Oriole, but on closer inspection we realized it is a Baltimore Oriole, Icterus galbula. The completely black head was the main clue to our identification. We are on the very edge of its migration range so this is not a common sight here.
Orioles are omnivores and are known to eat caterpillars, fruits, insects, spiders, and nectar. They make very unique nests. They are gourd-shaped and woven from hair, plant fibers, and synthetic fibers. Their nests hang by the rim from thin branches or a fork in a tall tree. They lay 3 - 7 eggs, which they incubate for 11 - 14 days. Chicks are helpless when they hatch, and will fledge in another 11 - 14 days.
Visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website for more info on this magnificent bird.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Goslings on the lawn

On April 30th I looked up from my desk to catch sight of the first goslings of the year. A family of five young geese, accompanied by their parents, was crossing the lawn from Will's Marsh to Deep Mill pond. I cautiously stuck my head out the door to take a photo; I have heard stories of adult geese attacking unwary humans, and I didn't want to press my luck. The geese lingered on the lawn to munch on some grass. As I learned from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's website, geese are "particularly drawn to lawns for two reasons: they can digest grass, and when they are feeding with their young, manicured lawns give them a wide, unobstructed view of any approaching predators."

These young goslings started their lives as eggs in large open cup nests on the ground, often made of grasses and other plant materials, and lined with the soft down and body feathers of the parents. The female chooses the nest site and incubates the eggs. Her mate will stay close-by and help to protect her and the eggs. She will lay from 2 - 8 cream-colored eggs that are roughly 3 inches long and 2 inches wide. The incubation period is 25 - 28 days. Goslings will leave the nest when 1 - 2 days old and are very active and mobile right away. They can walk, swim, and dive when they leave the nest.

One month later, the goslings have grown immensely, though they are still hanging out close to their parents. Students out in canoes this spring often saw the family swimming and feeding on the shores. Will's Marsh is also home to at least two families of mallards with 7 - 10 ducklings each. It has been a busy spring!