Thursday, April 05, 2012

Bird Moms

Mallard Duck Neting in Flower Bed
All Moms have to be courageous, and committed. When you carry a baby for nine months, knowing that it will only get harder after the birth, well, we all need any help we can get, right? But avian moms have it even harder than human moms, I think.

Robin Nest
First, she has to decide where to build her nest. Some birds, such as eagles and ospreys, will re-use a nest from year to year, but most birds start over each time. The location has to be close to food and water resources, yet provide will protect against predators. This Robin chose the top of a tombstone in a cemetery, only 3 feet off the ground - not where you would expect to see a Robin's nest. I don't know if she managed to protect her babies till they fledged or not, but I think a cat would find this nest easy pickings.

Tree Swallow Nest
All human moms enjoy re-decorating the nursery, and will drive from store to store to find the right sheets and wallpaper. Bird moms are choosy too. They need just the right building materials, whether moss, grass, pine needles, twigs, mud or large sticks. This Tree Swallow mom will pull the feathers over her eggs and babies when she has to leave the nest, just like we would use a blanket, to keep them warm in her absence. These are too big to be her own feathers though. Don't they look like chicken feathers?

Chickadee on Nest
Little Chickadees make the softest nests! They start with a base of green moss, then add grass and what feels like dog hair!  They sit in it to mold the space to fit just right. This little mama was brave enough to look me in the eye when I opened the door on her nest box. Without any words or chirps, she clearly told me to Go Away!

Barn Swallow
The Barn Swallows at Bernheim Forest like to build under the porch roof at the Garden Pavilion. The location is fine, but what to do about all the humans who walk beneath the nest, especially after the eggs hatch? Sometimes they dive bomb anyone who gets too close, but that can be exhausting. Or they might poop on the human's heads - always an effective tactic!

Bald Eagle on Nest in Snow
Then there's the weather to deal with. Some birds, such as Eagles and Great Horned Owls, have eggs or young while there is still the chance of snow. I worried about the Cooper's Hawks in our backyard when a big thunderstorm came. She had to sit there no matter how bad the weather got. How many human moms would do that day after day? And when the sun shines, it can be even worse with it beating down on your head.

Osprey Turning Eggs
Nesting birds lose the feathers on their bellies, creating a brood patch which allows the mom to put her warm skin directly on the eggs. But that only heats the top of the eggs, so periodically she has to turn the eggs over so they are evenly warmed.

Feed Me NOW!
Thank goodness that most of us human moms only have one baby at a time to be fed and cared for. These demanding baby Robins look like they are about to fall out of the nest. Some of our Bluebirds at Creasey Mahan have six eggs in the nest. As the babies grow, they require more and more food. A Barn Owl father may have to catch as many as 36 mice each night to feed 5-6 owlets, his mate and himself. Talk about exhausting! Yet, some birds, such as Barn Owls, Robins and Bluebirds, will have two or three clutches of eggs in a season. No wonder birds don't have long lifespans!

This is a busy time of year for all the birds, and we can help them by providing nesting materials, water, and a safe quiet place to nest. If you have cats, keep them indoors. If you don't find any nests in your yard, that's just the way the birds want it. But you can watch all kinds of birds with online nest cams, Eagles, Hawks, Owls, Great Blue Herons, you name it. One way to keep up to date is with  Cornell Unviversity has several live cams as well at, and there are many more. Be careful though. Watching nest cams is like watching soap operas. You can become addicted to the feathered drama each day, but what a wonderful way for people to become interested in birds!

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