Lessons learned from watching our bird families

We have been blessed the past few summers. Bird parents of nearly every persuasion have selected our backyard for their nurseries and our feeders as their restaurant of choice. The result has been a “bird’s eye” view of bird parenting techniques and the endearing if short-lived tolerance of adolescent birds towards other birds.

We have been beyond fortunate to be able to watch bird mothers and fathers (and I love how they share their parenting responsibilities) feeding their adolescent offspring, including an enormous crow parent feeding its equally enormous crow young’un on a tree branch outside our back window. We’ve watched Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers feeding their young from the luxury of our living room as well, and, let me tell you, those young’uns are demanding. If you think your kids are whiny, just ask bird parents what they think!

Greedy Hairy Woodpecker

We have watched as mourning doves, cardinals, finches of every colour, nuthatches, juncos, chickadees, sparrows, and, yes, hummingbirds, have established our backyard as their home for the summer as they raise their families, sometimes even raising two broods in one season. We see robins, but not as frequently, since as they’re ground feeders they don’t ever try our feeders. Just ask Robby Robin why.

Robins just don’t belong on feeders – there are no worms or berries in feeders!

We can watch eagles and ospreys raising their families during the summer too, but we have to go a mile or so (a few kms) down the trail to do so; they don’t come to our feeders. 😉 (Their prized food source is found in our Saint John River, which is why they’re nesting – and fishing – here.)

Eagles’ nests are really big!

Adolescent birds grow to a size similar to their parents quite quickly, so how can you tell an adolescent from a life-weary adult?

  • Young birds are duller in colour. The male cardinals aren’t yet vivid red and the male goldfinches aren’t yet a vivid yellow. And the young hummingbirds seem to be darker than the muted green they eventually acquire.
  • Young birds are scruffier. Their feathers never seem to be fully “in place”, kind of like they didn’t comb their hair before they left for school.
  • They spend lots of time grooming themselves (despite their scruffy look). They must be practicing; their parents are not nearly as obvious in their grooming habits!
  • My favourite: young birds are far more tolerant of birds “of a different feather” and others of their own kind than their parents are. I’ve tried without success to get pictures of our feeder completely surrounded by several species of birds contentedly sharing the same food source with each other, but they are more comfortable with each other than with me when I try to get near the window with my camera. (And of course the lighting’s not within my control either.)  But it’s a great sight to witness. Most adult birds will either chase the others away, eat furtively while watching to see who else might be coming, or wait until every other bird has left before even attempting to land on the feeder.

    The neighborhood gang flying in for a refreshment break

    These birds have been going through a feeder’s worth of seed a day lately!

    A young male cardinal and a nuthatch eating dropped seeds from the feeder above.

  • Hummingbirds, who don’t need to share their food with other bird species because no other birds like their food, seem to be intolerant of each other right from the get-go. It’s exceedingly rare to see two hummingbirds on the feeder at the same time, even though there’s plenty of room and plenty of food. There’s often a (tiny) male hummingbird sitting in the spruce hedge below the feeder, guarding it to ensure that no other hummingbird lands. It is quite something to watch these tiny birds chasing each other away at high speed.

Hummingbird flying in

Hummingbird getting closer

Ah, made it!

We learn so much from watching our bird friends. And for us, the wonderful thing is that many of them stay for the winter, snow and ice or no snow and ice. The juncos leave, the hummingbirds definitely leave, all but the most foolish robins and some types of finches leave, but we have winter stalwarts in our crows, chickadees, nuthatches, goldfinches (who lose their yellow for the winter), woodpeckers, mourning doves, and enough cardinals to give us the occasional thrill of a flash of scarlet against winter’s blanket of white. They gladden our hearts in the dead of winter.

Hopefully, our bird friends who go elsewhere for the winter will remember to return to the fold for many years to come. We’ve established a bird seed fund so we’ll to be able to keep up with their growing families!

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6 Responses to Lessons learned from watching our bird families

  1. alesiablogs says:

    Luv it!! My life is enriched by birds…


  2. Reblogged this on Musings and Wonderings and commented:
    As I sit here in my son’s home in Thunder Bay looking at the backyard I can revel in a flock of sparrows cleaning the yard. I have always been delighted by birds so maybe it’s something I need to spend more time on as retirement looms. On the hummingbird front I have been to one home that had about 5 feeders across a 40ft deck and had literally dozens of hummingbirds swiftly flying around all the time and of course some engaged in their territorial disputes. It was magnificent!


    • Jane Fritz says:

      Aha, Wayne, a bird watcher in the making, big time! One of many delights awaiting full retirement, although it seems to me that your recent travels have shown just how successful a full retirement you plan on having. 🙂


  3. We do, indeed. And even about gender roles. In the spring, our family watched a pair of doves share the nest-building, egg-sitting and the feeding and protecting of their young. It was a joy.
    Lovely pix!


    • Jane Fritz says:

      Joy. That is the exact right word to describe it. And just yesterday I saw a blue jay sitting on the hedge below our feeders. This is our first blue jay sighting at our house in the 21 years we’ve lived here. It’s taken a while, but apparently the word has got out about our largesse! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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