Tuesday, July 10, 2018 baby birds

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 4:53 am, sunset 11:12 pm for a total day length of 18 hours and 19 minutes. Tomorrow will be 3 minutes and 1 second shorter.

After a week of sunny blue skies and temps in the mid 70s, the National Weather Service posted a warning about our weather returning to normal. And normal it is, with fog, low gray clouds, wind, and rain of many adjectives punctuated by a high-wind, heavy rainstorm.

The storm was a terrible time to be blown out of one’s nest. Yesterday, an alert pedestrian spotted a dark object the size of a marshmallow in a parking lot. Taking a closer look, he realized it was a tiny wet bird lying on its side. He scooped it up and discovered it was alive! After a few minutes nestled on his palm in the blast from the car’s hot air vent, the little tyke perked up, stood up in his hand, and demanded food service. “Cheep-cheep-cheep-now!”

I arrived a short time later, wondering who it was and how to best take care of it. The tail feathers had not yet sprouted, but the baby down was mostly gone except for darling filoplume feathers waving like wild antennae on its head. The wing feathers were well along, unfurling from white sheaths. He certainly had a big appetite and his large yellow bill marked the target for food.

I decided the best place for this healthy baby was with its parents and began scanning for adults and listening for other noisy siblings. Luckily, a parent flashed past, carrying off a fecal sac. I waited and watched as it  stealthily returned and indirectly flitted through the bushes. After some time, I realized the nest was near an alder tree, and furthermore, on the ground. I crept forward and gently set the cheeping baby near the base and backed away.

The parent soon returned and resumed hauling off fecal sacs and delivering insects to the clamoring family. The light was dim and the bird was quick, but I think it was an ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER. A very hard-working warbler parent!

Back at home, the RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH family left the nest box on the garage about 10 days ago. Oddly, the entrance hole was plastered all around with spruce sap. A brief Google search brought up several hits. The thought is that this practice may reduce predation and competition. Nuthatches zoom in like an arrow to the bulls-eye and do not touch the hole, so perhaps this would help keep birds from landing and entering. I touched the sap, and found it hard and not at all sticky, so perhaps this was a short-term deterrent to keep out those pesky Chestnut-backed Chickadees at the beginning of the nesting season. Or maybe it’s just one of those nutty Nuthatch traditions. It also smells good.

Other sites mentioned that Nuthatches prefer nesting in cavities in trees, so attracting a family to a nest box is special. I’ve had them nest in the swallow boxes in the past, but do not remember the sap. It would have been interesting to watch them gather and apply the sap; I wonder how they unloaded the sticky stuff?

The VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOWS in the nest box on the other side of the garage, and in the backyard nest box are still attending to their hungry babies, likewise the TREE SWALLOWS in the deck box. They too, fly in like an arrow, or land briefly on the edge then pop in. What a pleasure to watch them gracefully swoop and twirl, flying low one instant then soar overhead, snapping up all kinds of insects on the wing to fed their babies. It’s a joy to watch them rest on the overhead power line or atop the nest box and preen, chuckling conversationally, unconcerned that I’m there.

This year is the best year in years for nesting Swallows and the most I’ve ever had. I am so pleased!

I’m glad the Swallow babies did not fledge during the storm, but their confinement won’t last much longer. I will miss their sweet, syncopated, persistent, incessant, insistent racket; the sound of life growing and bursting with hope.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter