Friday, August 3, 2012

Straw Houses Make Happy Homes

Those of us familiar with The Three Little Pigs read this title and shake our heads, saying “What?”  However, we are thinking like pigs or, better yet, humans.   Put yourself in a bird’s mind to see the logic behind this title.

Before area trees and shrubs leaf out, treat yourself to a nature walk.  If you have youngsters or the heart of a youngster, grab some binoculars and find a grove of trees. Spend thirty minutes examining trunks and branches from top to bottom.  Look for grass and stick homes tucked where branches intersect or for grass and sticks poking from holes to reveal hiding places of cavity dwelling families-to-be. Examine plants at tree bases to find hidden, bowl-shaped nests.  Through bare branches, spy nests waiting for new or returning residents.

Once you find last year’s feathered-friend-summer-homes, focus the binoculars to analyze construction and materials. This provides a perfect opportunity to play amateur ornithologist and form hypotheses about previous residents. 

Nest size provides clues to the homebuilder.  Outer materials and nest linings provide more information to help solve your mystery.  If you’re lucky, you’ll find a feather or a bit of broken egg shell to finalize an answer.  Once you’ve examined the physical evidence, continue your investigation on the internet or in a bird book.  Look up species that live in your neighborhood and examine pictures of their nests.

 You will see willy-nilly assemblages where mom and pop hurriedly tossed sticks together so they could lay eggs.  I feel bad for these offspring because crude nests must poke delicate hatchlings.
In another nest, you’ll find finely woven grasses, string, cellophane, ribbon, and hair.  You’ll note soft linings made from thistle down, downy feathers, or discarded pet hair.  

Once you see what neighborhood birds use to create nests, toss handfuls of Easter grass or cat, dog, or human hair retrieved from brushes into the backyard.  You’ll soon see birds scavenging these contributions for their homes.

These nests assume various forms.  My favorite is an oriole nest recognizable as a grass bag attached to a branch. Dare to stick your nose in a hole in a tree where you might find a wren nest or a larger woodpecker or flicker nest.  Messy sparrow nests, large red tail hawk constructions, oriole cradles, and elaborate stick nests of blue herons grace tops of creek-side cottonwoods.  Look in lower branches to find cardinal and dove nests or search the ground for brown thrasher nurseries.

After leaves unfurl, sighting bird nests requires more work.   Take advantage of stark branches to learn where nearby birds brood.  Later, spend time watching adults flit in and out to feed noisy offspring.  Soon after, watch awkward fledgling flight patterns and attempts at food gathering.

Time invested now allows you and your family to discover neighborhood grass, stick, and straw homes neither Big Bad Wolf nor wind can blow down. Identify such locations to observe nesting behaviors over the next months.

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