Friday, July 14, 2006

In the Juniper

Friday, July 14, 2006
Howdy. I'd like to show you what's going on in one of our shrubs. We planted columnar junipers up against the house about six years ago, and they're finally big enough to host nesting birds. One juniper fledged a brood of house finches in early May; the female sat her eggs through a late snow flurry or two. I was interested to note the thick covering of white down on the house finch nestlings; they're obviously pretty well adapted to cold. The nest is thick and fluffy with plant down and soft fibers, and the female is a stolid sitter.
Right below the house finch nest, our yard pair of song sparrows built another one. I discovered this nest on June 24, quite by accident. I was standing next to the juniper, talking to some friends about, of all things, finding birds' nests, and this female song sparrow shot out of the juniper and disappeared around the corner. "She's been on a nest," I declared, walked over to confirm it. Three eggs! This is probably this pair's third attempt. The first was successful; three young fledged and are still around the yard. There was time for a second attempt, but I don't think any young resulted.
Yesterday, I stuck my camera into the juniper (the nest is over my head) and got this lucky shot of two feathered young, probably nine days old and pretty near fledging. I'll leave them be from now on. They 're still in the nest this morning, as evidenced by the pair's near-constant alarm calls and ferrying of suet dough to their waiting gapes.
We have been enjoying the male's singing lessons. He started singing to his young before they hatched; I've no doubt they heard him from the egg. He sings loudly, and close to the nest, which puts him right outside our bedroom window. They're learning his song, and he's teaching it to them. If they're females, they'll know what to listen for in a mate; if they're males, their brains are putting neurons in place to replicate it. The pleasure in listening is ours! He's our alarm clock.
Because Bill loves them, some field daisies in morning sun. They're at the edge of the prairie meadow he burned over, disced with the tractor, and planted for me this spring. Behind them you can see some Maximilian sunflower plants. They love being disced; it replicates them endlessly! We've not had morning sun for quite some time--we're socked in with a fine misty fog this morning--but I can dream. When he gets home maybe he'll read this, walk out to the meadow and bring me a daisy.


On July 14, 2006 at 3:09 PM Rondeau Ric said...

You have a beautiful garden and from your nature walk posts, the rest looks great as well. Hopefully one of these years Anne and I will have a chance to bird at Indigo.
Have a good weekend.

On July 15, 2006 at 2:54 PM KatDoc said...


I shudder in near terror at my audacity, but I think I might be able to tell you something about Song Sparrows - the females can sing, too, and do so nearly as well as the males.

This tidbit comes from Margaret Morse Nice's landmark studies, published in 1937 & 1943. According to your friend and mine, Jim McCormac, in his book "Birds of Ohio," Ms. Nice was a pioneer in avian ecology research at a time when women in science were rare. She did her studies along the Olentangy River (The "Old and Dingy" we used to call it) in my old stomping grounds of Columbus, Ohio. Isn't that cool?

I have been reading up on Song Sparrows because of the nest in an evergreen scrub by the deck. The female is sitting on 4 eggs, and even though it is right outside my front door, it is so well hidden that if I hadn't seen her bringing in nesting material, I would never have known it was there. I'm sure this is her second or even third clutch of the season, but it is the first I have been able to observe so closely.

Speaking of close, I awoke from my afternoon nap (after 3.5 weeks of bronchitis, I sleep whenever possible) to some high-pitched twittering calls outside my bedroom window. At first, I thought it was the recently fledged Eastern Kingbirds who have usurped my TV antenna, but when I looked, I found 11 fledgling Barn Swallows jockeying for position on a wire. They had a tough time keeping their balance, shoving each other for the best position, gaping, and watching for parents to feed them all at this same time.

Baby birds - ain't life grand? (Hurry home, Bill - you are missing everything!)