Monday, May 4, 2015

The Change to Summer Birds

I keep the bird feeders filled with sunflower seeds and cracked corn year round.  Although the diet never changes, the species of birds visiting the feeder vary from season to season.  The last few weeks has seen the arrival of what I think of as the summer visitors.  Many of these, like this Blue Grosbeak, would be difficult to view if they didn’t regularly visit the feeder.

Even though they are permanent residents in this area, I rarely see Brown-headed Cowbirds in the winter.  During the summer, I routinely see them at the feeder.  They are also to be found stationed atop the tallest trees around the property, watching to spot nest locations in which to lay their eggs.

A gathering place for birds that don’t typically visit the feeder is the vegetable garden.  Brown Thrashers patrol back and forth along the vegetable rows, plucking larvae from the plants and pulling grubs or cutworms from the soil.

Chipping Sparrows search the garden for both seeds and insects.  This guy kept chasing and eating some type of insect moving quickly across the planting beds.  He captured several in just a couple of minutes, but I never got a look at what he was hunting.

Field Sparrows have found the mulch of cut grass in the garden to be ideal nest material.  They are frequently seen leaving with mouths full of the fine grass stems and leaves.  The top of the fence is  a favorite perch.

Bluebird pairs seem to find an abundance of suitable insects inside the garden boundaries.  The female sits on one post …

… and the male usually sits on the next post over.  When an insect is spotted, they will fly down to pick it up and then return to the post.

With all of those garden insects to feed on, it’s no surprise that the Bluebird couple claimed the bird box nearest the garden.

The female has just begun incubating this clutch of five eggs, so I probably won’t be seeing much of her for the next couple of weeks.  After that, she’ll be busy ridding the garden of insect pests in order to feed her growing family.

With their aerial displays and propensity to chatter, Tree Swallows are usually the most noticeable of the summer birds at Blue Jay Barrens.  These birds were uncommon here 25 years ago.  When I first installed bird boxes, they were all occupied by Bluebirds of Chickadees.  Now, 80 percent of the box inhabitants are Tree Swallows.  The shallow pool of water at the site of my new toad pool construction has been getting a lot of attention from the swallows.

The area that has been stripped of vegetation seems to be a preferred site for the collection of nest material.

The final phase of Tree Swallow nest building is the addition of feathers around the rim of the nest.  The birds almost always use feathers from domesticated chickens or ducks.  The battling Wild Turkey males leave an almost daily offering of feathers in my yard, but the Tree Swallows don’t find them of interest.  Maybe they just have a preference for white feathers.

No Tree Swallow eggs have yet been laid, but I imagine that will change soon.  By the time the last of hatchlings leave the nest in late summer, the resident population of Tree Swallows will be about four times what it is now.


  1. Hi Steve... What a nice Tweet post :}
    I have never seen a Blue Grosbeak. He is beautiful. Don't know if we get then here, guess I will check my field guide
    The Field Sparrow is one of my favorites, love those pink feet and beak. I have had them eating small seeds at the feeder, but probably will be looking for natural food soon.

    I don't know what to heck my Bluebirds are doing. The box was filled back in April. To early ... I didn't think they would lay eggs, it had been so chilly,but they did. If the eggs made it they should be hatching soon.

    Thanks for your bird news.


    1. Hi, Grace. I've had years when the Bluebirds sat on their eggs through late freezes and snow storms. The eggs always survived just fine. I guess we just have to believe that the birds know more about this nesting business than we do.