Wednesday night we were treated to a spring lunar experience as the full moon dominated the dark skies. With a light breeze from the south, it was a perfect night for migration as the wild birds continue to make their way north. Millions of song birds will fly by the light of the moon, eager to get to their summer homes where they will start new beginnings. As they pass by in the darkness, I hear only their gentle, faint songs, but the man in the moon sees them all.
Itís been nearly a week since Iíve seen a female cardinal. The bright red males are coming to the bird feeders while the females sit tight on the nest that she built, keeping her clutch of 3-5 lavender, speckled eggs warm. The nest is hidden deep in the thickets and made of tiny sticks and shreds of bark. When the shrubs leaf out fully, the nest will be completely concealed from all who pose a danger. Her mate will bring her all she needs to eat. Choice insects and seeds will satisfy her hunger.
The little juncos are still here. They know that itís too soon for them to head to the far north where they raise their families. But soon these little black and white winter birds will be gone.
The male wood duck is arguably the most beautiful bird with webbed feet. How could a single bird have so many colors? He surely has more than his fair share of fancy plumage, and he sees the world through blood red eyes. The male wood duck may be the most beautiful of all the ducks, yet he is not vain or proud. He follows his love wherever she goes. Itís she who chooses the nesting place in a hollow tree trunk after spending days checking out scores of woody holes with her beautiful faithful mate in tow.
The smallest of the sparrows to return in the spring may also be the least conspicuous, but I recognize the songs of the first chipping sparrows instantly. They are named for their song, which is a series of eight to ten sweet chip, chip, chips. They wear a chestnut cap and have a white line above the eye with a black line running through it. Just because they are small and inconspicuous doesnít mean they are shy. I frequently see them in the garden or at the edge of the lawn. I love the way their sweet songs add to the ever growing spring chorus.
Iím so lucky to have two pairs of bluebirds using bird houses nearby. They are such a lovely shade of blue and greet me each summer day with such a sweet, gentle song. Iím humbled by their beauty. There was a time when I thought they were lost and would be just another memory of my childhood. But they have returned to the land, and I will never again take them for granted. They are busy in the morning flying down from their perches to snap up insects on the ground and carrying nesting material to their favorite bird house. Bluebirds seem to have similar characteristics of some other birds such as flycatchers. Bluebirds are often seen flying out from their perch to catch a flying insect as a flycatcher does. They are members of the family known as thrushes, which includes robins, hermit thrush, veery and wood thrush. Of these, only the bluebirds are cavity nesters.
The pretty kestrels have accepted the new nesting box that my friend Andy and I put up. They are busy with the courtship rituals which include the male catching food to present to his beautiful mate. He always lets her know heís bringing her a treat by calling to her ďkilly, killy, killy, killyĒ. Often she will fly up to meet him on the power line where he presents her with her prize, a meadow vole or a small snake. Soon she will be incubating a clutch of four to five eggs at the bottom of the nesting box.
A pair of phoebes are building a nest up under the eave of the house. Itís nice to have them close enough to watch from the window. These true flycatchers are experts at catching flying insects and are the earliest of their kind to return in the spring.
A single mallard drake stands at the edge of the pond and his beautiful plumage glistens in the morning sun. His mate may already be sitting on her down-lined nest filled with as many as a dozen round eggs. There may be fuzzy little ducklings on the pond by the first week of May.
The yellow-bellied sapsucker lives up to his name as he pecks rows of shallow holes around the tree trunk to drink the sap. They spend the winter in the deep south where the sap always runs freely. They are similar in size to the little five inch downy woodpecker and have a red throat, as well. Iíve learned to recognize his winning call that always lets me know that heís around.
Another woodpecker that goes south for the winter is the yellow-shafted flicker. Its method of searching for food is not usually associated with woodpecker behavior. They spend much of their time on the ground or in the short grass searching for insects. They seem to be very fond of ants. Itís easy for the flicker to stand over a small ant mound and catch the ants as they come out. Itís something they canít do in the winter when the ground is covered with snow, so they go south in the fall with ants on their minds.
The purple grackles are returning in flocks of 20 to 30 or more. They are attracted to their favorite nest habitat: pine trees and other conifers. Several pairs may nest in the branches of the same large, white pine trees. They are very communal birds and often flock together like starlings. In the spring, the large black males show us how beautiful black can be. In the sunshine, his feathers reflect purple and green. His bright yellow eye looks sharp, but not mean. Iím sure his song is beautiful to the ears of his mate, but Iím afraid it touches only her heart. Or maybe I just prefer a song with a melody rather than the tuneless squawk and squeak that sounds as though the bird has a sore throat.
The first tree swallow appeared in the yard today, flying back and forth, up and down and scanning the sky for flying insects. They often arrive earliest of all the swallows and March 30th isnít necessarily early. I remember seeing three tree swallows on March 3rd, 1972. There was snow on the ground and ice in the river.
Hope you enjoyed hearing about some of springís wild birds in the Kickapoo Valley. More to come!
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