Nesting Instinct

HNWR Goose Nest_0455 acsWell, what’s with Miss Grumpy? Here she is giving me the old stare-down. What’s got her tail feathers in a twist?

She’s sitting on eggs, that’s what. For some reason she decided to build her nest awfully close to one of Heinz Refuge’s trails. A heavily traveled trail at that, especially in the heart of warbler migration season. She got very little privacy as she incubated the next generation of Canada Geese. Geese are known for being aggressive at times. Fortunately for Refuge bird watchers, she wasn’t going to leave that nest unattended.

HNWR Chickadee_0041 acsNearby a pair of Carolina Chickadees were moving into a nice home in an older development. Chickadees are a personal favorite, and I was looking forward to seeing these two raise a family. Darned if I could find that tree again, though.

HNWR Gnatcatcher_4976 acsBlue-gray Gnatcatchers were really busy building nests all around Heinz during late April. We watched this one pick up pieces of a spider web to fortify the construction.

HNWR Eagle_9390 acsNot every nesting attempt is successful. This was the fifth season our resident Bald Eagles have incubated eggs at Heinz. Unfortunately, about the time the eggs were expected to hatch, the adults stopped sitting on the nest. They would never have abandoned viable eggs or nestlings. Something went wrong, but just what remains a mystery. It’s not uncommon for Eagles – or any other bird – to have a nest fail occasionally. Sad, but a part of life in the wild. The Eagles are still around, and they will try again next year.

HNWR Owlet_1189 acsGreat Horned Owls returned to a favorite place at the Refuge. Here’s the result, a bouncing baby owlet. This was taken in late April, when he was still covered in down and looked much like a Muppet. A few weeks ago he started “branching”, moving out of the nest to nearby branches in preparation for his first flight.

Meanwhile, back at my house in the suburban wilds, I watched as an American Robin with a beak full of caterpillars flew into the red maple tree that stands in front of my porch. Sure enough, I found the tree occupied by a nest and four baby robins.

Robin Nest_9888 acsWhen I first saw them on a Sunday evening, they were only partially feathered, with heads that barely reached over the side of the nest. Both robin parents share in the care of the babies. Every time Mom or Dad appeared, the little ones craned their heads on wobbly necks and opened their beaks in hopes of something yummy. Then they would go quiet until the next food delivery a few minutes later.

Robin Nest_9915 acsThey kept both parents hopping from sunup until nightfall, when Mom and her brood finally settled in for the night.

Robin Nest_0310What a difference a few days makes! By Friday the chicks were fully feathered and much larger. The nest was overflowing with birds! When one youngster turned around and flexed his wings, the others were pushed to the side of the nest and looked as if they might fall out completely.

Robin Nest_0088 aThey still looked to their parents for all their needs.

FUN FACT: Robins eat insects and fruit, with a preference for insects in the morning and fruit later in the day. Ever seen a robin run a few feet across a lawn, stop and cock his head? He’s listening for worms; robins find a lot of their prey by hearing its movements underground. In the fall, when fruit is a larger part of their diet, they may overindulge in ripened and fermented berries, and become intoxicated.

Robin Nest_0272I knew it was only a matter of time before the kids left home. Young robins stay in the nest about two weeks, and time was almost up. Sunday night the nest was empty. Juvenile robins still need to be fed for awhile, and it will take them up to two weeks to become good fliers. After they left the nest, the chicks scattered; one in my tree, another in a neighbor’s, the last two who knows where. Four times the work for Mom and Dad! The parents are still protective, too. I saw one chase a squirrel all the way across the street. Five days after fledging, I watched a parent feeding one of the youngsters in my garden. When this group of siblings is independent, the parents will likely nest again; robins normally have two to three broods a year.

Raising a brood of hungry growing chicks is demanding, time-consuming work. Knowing what she has in store, perhaps our Mother Goose could be forgiven for being a little grumpy!