Fledglings Take Flight
If you hear begging sounds or strange chip notes coming from your shrubs and trees take a closer look. In May all those newly fledged birds like Carolina Wrens, Northern Cardinals, Eastern Phoebes, Northern Mockingbirds, Blue Jays and American Robins might be hidden on branches while mom and dad look for food to feed them. Some young birds will barely budge for several days. For example young Northern Cardinals fledge at 7-13 days. They can fly a very short distance and then mostly stay put for about 11 days. After that they begin to move around a little more, but still rely on adults for most of their food. The adult female may re-nest after a couple of weeks, and the adult male will continue to feed the fledglings until the next brood hatches. At that point the first brood may be driven from the adults’ territory.
Young birds don’t look like their parents initially. Juvenile mockingbirds have spots on their breasts as do young robins. Immature cardinals have dark bills rather than the adults’ orange ones. Baby Blue Jays have very short tails. On recently fledged birds you might see what looks like an outline of lipstick around their bills- that is the gape which is soft at first but hardens and darkens as the bill ages.
With high winds that we might experience in May some bird nests are bound to fall down. If you can, put the nest back in a shrub or tree close to where you found it. You may have to create a new nest using a strawberry basket or margarine tub lined with dry grass. It is an old wives’ tale that birds reject their young if humans have handled them. Often the parents will return to feed them. Keep watch though. If the parents don’t come back then contact Austin Wildlife Rescue for help.
It is delightful to watch adult birds with young in tow as they practice landings and take offs. All young birds are very vulnerable to predation at this stage when they can’t fly well and are not wise to the ways of cats and other hazards. Most won’t live to celebrate their first birthdays. You can help by keeping cats indoors and by leaving low branches that provide perches for weak flyers.
Birds with Bling
Migration is in full swing and will continue at least through the third week of May. While colorful local summer breeders like Painted Buntings, Summer Tanagers and Scissor-tailed Flycatchers are settling in to raise their young, many warblers are just passing through. One eye-catching bird is the male Canada Warbler which has a slate gray back and head, a black necklace on bright yellow underparts and a white eye-ring. Look for it low in the understory. In Canada this warbler favors moist thickets in the boreal forest where it is a ground nester. It spends little time on its breeding grounds, perhaps no more than two months, before it heads back to northwestern South America. Although its name reflects the 60-65% of the population that breeds there, Canada Warblers can also be found in the northern U.S. down through the Great Lakes and into the Appalachians.
Be on the lookout for two bright yellow sprites heading north – the Yellow Warbler, aptly named, and Wilson’s Warbler. Both favor brushy vegetation, often near water. They especially like willows thickets. The male Yellow Warbler sports a red necklace, and the male Wilson’s looks somewhat jaunty with a black cap.
Forecasting Bird Migration
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is actively tracking bird movements across the country, making predictions on when and where birds will be migrating, based on weather conditions. You can learn more about this evolving science at Birdcast.