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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Bird BNB

Last week I mourned a clematis that’s not leafing out. I’d like to cut back the dead gray stems and trim off spent peony blossoms nearby. The reason I don’t is that a cardinal couple has built their nest two feet from the lattice supporting the now-dead vine. I don’t want to trespass on their territory.

    It’s a thrill to see birds nesting near the house this year. I like to think they’re choosing our yard because of hospitable conditions. I spotted the male cardinal flying back and forth near the garage and wondered where his nest was. 

     One day I was standing at the kitchen sink gazing absently out the window and realized I was looking right into a nest of small twigs built at eye level next to the trunk of a Hinoki cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa). 

The nest of twigs near this trunk is well hidden by foliage

    I can see why this shrub was a good choice, because its evergreen scales grow densely, making an excellent shelter. Now I sometimes see the heads of the baby cardinals with their mouths open wide, waiting for their father to stuff in some food. 

    The other nest I’m aware of belongs to robins. It sits on top of a security light mounted under the eaves of the house along the driveway. I first became aware that nesting action was going on when I started finding dried stalks of smooth Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum) lying on the asphalt. 

Dry smooth Solomon's seal stems make good nesting material

    Looking up, I saw a new nest constructed from stalks and mud sitting on top of the leftover base from a previous effort. 

Robin's nest

Two weeks later I found a piece of blue eggshell on the ground under the nest. The chicks were hatching!

    The robin father won’t stay on the nest when I’m around, so I’m not able to capture his portrait. 

The best shot I could get by hiding in my car

This makes me think that those stake-outs you see on TV, where a detective sits in a car taking plentiful photos of an unsuspecting criminal with a whirring telephoto lens, may possibly be unrealistic, or at least would be if the suspect were a bird parent. 

Not fooling any robins

    This robin flies away to a fence post or the peak of the garage roof when he notices me getting near, increasing my admiration for real wildlife photographers. He’s clearly on the job feeding the chicks, though, because I see their little beaks poking out above the rim of the nest, and they’re growing fast.

    Looking for some background information, I learned that American robins and northern cardinals do good work in the garden. They eat lots of insects, as well as fruits (robins) and seeds (cardinals). Robins are among the few birds that feed on grubs and worms they find in lawns, which is why they’re so visible in suburban landscapes. 

    I found out that the mother birds in both species often move on once the eggs hatch, building another nest and producing and incubating another clutch of eggs in the same season. The fathers do the work of feeding the nestlings. Who knew male birds were so evolved?

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