Avian generations in the making – part 1: courtship

The tragedies being faced in the Caribbean islands after hurricanes Maria, Jose and Irma are horrible and other than donate cash to help alleviate the needs, I’m not in a position to offer more assistance. I’m grateful for all those who can and hope government assistance will be forthcoming to help all the people in those nations recover.
The effects of the hurricanes also will be noticeable for the wildlife. Many of those living on land will drown or die of hunger; some birds may be a little luckier – able to shelter against the winds if they are native to a place or able to change their migratory pattern (e.g., delay arrival on wintering grounds) for a time. But when the effects of the storms are immense with lots of habitat destruction, the birds, too, will lack places to shelter and not have sufficient food supplies to survive.

It’s thought that some birds endemic to the islands may be severely endangered as a species. On 22 September, birders were happy to hear that eight Barbuda warblers (Setophaga subita) had been spotted on that island; not a lot but they may help ensure this tiny bird doesn’t become extinct.  At the time of writing this blog, the fate of some other bird species was still unknown. I hope that all the Caribbean bird species survive and will be thinking of them as I share this series with you on how birds take measures to ensure future generations. (It might seem odd to write this series now, but some birds are still feeding their young here.)

So, the process begins with courtship. Some birds mate for life, or at least form long-term (multiple-year) bonded relationships. They include bald eagles, black vultures, blue jays, Canada geese, white-breasted nuthatches, brown-headed nuthatches, Northern cardinals, Carolina chickadees, American crows, pileated woodpeckers and my favorite raptor shown above, the osprey (Pandion haliaetus).

Those who form ongoing bonds may have a courtship period that consists of the male bringing the female some food to indicate it’s time to get ready for nest-building. This was the case for these lovely Northern cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis).

The American crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) has a similar behavior; in my yard, I sometimes throw out bits of apple or bread for them in the spring as these seem to be considered real treats. The female will sit on a branch overhead calling until the male brings her some – and sometimes almost shoves it down her throat!

The Northern mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) males will sing their repertoire in the spring to entice female mates – often they perch on the top of trees and fly up and down with spread wings in a beautiful display while singing.

        

   

The yellow-billed cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus) seeks new mates each year but has an interesting courtship behavior described by All About Birds: “A receptive female perches with its head up, pumping its tail slowly up and down…Just prior to mating, the male Yellow-Billed Cuckoo snaps off a short twig that he presents to the female as he perches on her back and leans over her shoulder. Both birds then grasp the twig as they copulate.”

 

     

 

The downy woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) females and males may both flutter between trees with slow wingbeats. Two females may also compete for the attention of a single male, a behavior I observed this past spring and which surprised me.

 

     

The male brown-headed cowbird (Molothrus ater) will vocalize for the female while spreading his wings in a display.

The killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) has a somewhat prettier courtship dance, bending forward and spreading its tail feathers to show off the colorful underside.

  

Next year, I hope to see more of the birds courting as it gives me a happy feeling.

The next step for the birds is nest-building. We don’t have the bowerbirds in North Carolina, who build elaborate nests as part of their courtship. But the species we have do spend a good deal of time on their nests and I’ll share some of their efforts in the next part of the series. (But one or two blogs on another topic will come first.)

 

Credit map: By Kmusser (Own work, all data from Vector Map.) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Yay for the bluebirds!

Eastern bluebird Eastern bluebird IMG_9836©Maria de Bruyn resLast year was a disappointment for the bluebirds (Sialia sialias) and me when a cowbird (Molothrus ater) laid her egg in their front-yard nest. The cowbird hatched first and when I looked a few days later, the bluebird eggs were gone. The bluebirds dutifully cared for the foster child but had none of their own.

This year, they returned to the same nesting box and despite there being whole flocks of cowbirds around, they were able to avoid being surrogate parents this year. On 2 May, there were three eggs and by 5 May there were four.

Eastern bluebird IMG_5902©Maria de Bruyn resEastern bluebird IMG_4819©Maria de Bruyn resEastern bluebird IMG_4985©Maria de Bruyn res

On 17 May, after mama and papa left the vicinity of the nest, I peeked in and saw the hatched babies, very naked newborns indeed! Mama was often with the babies and papa came to bring food, but mama left from time to time. They both visited the feeders to replenish themselves.

Eastern bluebird Eastern bluebird IMG_9753©Maria de Bruyn resEastern bluebird IMG_8753©Maria de Bruyn res

I set up a canopy chair to observe at what I thought was a good distance but discovered I was too close. The parents would arrive in the tree fronting the nest but if I was too close in their opinion, they would not go to the nest or only after I had been still for quite a long time. It was interesting to see that they were feeding the hatchlings dried meal worms along with other insects that they had caught.
Eastern bluebird IMG_3538©Maria de Bruyn resEastern bluebird IMG_3498©Maria de Bruyn res

Eastern bluebird IMG_3657©Maria de Bruyn resEastern bluebird IMG_3620©Maria de Bruyn  res

They also seemed to be feeding the babies fruit – wild raspberries from what I could tell!

Eastern bluebird IMG_4994©Maria de Bruyn resBy 28 May, the babies were much larger and feathered. Mama and papa were kept busy ensuring they were well fed! And house cleaning to remove their brood’s fecal sacs was also a definite necessity!

Eastern bluebird IMG_5129©Maria de Bruyn res

Eastern bluebird IMG_5371©Maria de Bruyn resThe parents remained very vigilant – not only keeping an eye on me but also other too curious visitors. On 1 June, a gray catbird (Dumetella carolinensis) suddenly descended to the nesting box, fluttering its wings furiously to remain suspended in front of the hole while it looked in. It then flew up on top of the box but the bluebird adults chased it away VERY quickly!

 

Eastern bluebird IMG_5008©Maria de Bruyn res

 

 

By 2 June, the babies were looking ready to fledge. The next day, I had time to watch the box and saw a baby repeatedly looking out (but not really calling much).

 

 

Eastern bluebird IMG_6267©Maria de Bruyn resEastern bluebird IMG_6330©Maria de Bruyn res

Sure enough, I saw it leap and swoop up to perch on a nearby branch.

Eastern bluebird IMG_6347©Maria de Bruyn resEastern bluebird IMG_6369©Maria de Bruyn res

Eastern bluebird IMG_6361©Maria de Bruyn resEastern bluebird IMG_6379©Maria de Bruyn res

The next baby soon began peeping out, too, although this one also retreated inside the box now and again. Eventually, this baby swooped out as well, but s/he flew all the way across the street to a neighbor’s yard. When I carefully looked inside the next box, I saw that they were the last two to fledge – the others had gone before.

Eastern bluebird IMG_6452©Maria de Bruyn trdEastern bluebird IMG_6458©Maria de Bruyn res

Oddly, I haven’t seen the babies at the feeders although I see the parents there.

Eastern bluebird IMG_8743©Maria de Bruyn resEastern bluebird IMG_7504©Maria de Bruyn res

 

Eastern bluebird IMG_8749©Maria de Bruyn resThey or another bluebird couple were checking out a nest box in the backyard. They didn’t use this one (Carolina wrens have moved in with a nest there in the last few days) but they have constructed a new nest in another backyard box today. So I hope to witness another fledging in a few weeks! Yay for the bluebirds!