Welcome to my world!

Backyard Birding in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas:
Surrounded by great birding destinations, our favorite patch is still the backyard (or the front), where we've seen more than 270 species of birds. Sit awhile, and watch the river and yard with us!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Home Sweet Home

Look who's building a home at our home!  It's the Altamira Orioles. (Click here for another post about these champion nest-builders.) Over the years I've seen their amazing pendulous nests in the area, but this is the first nest that will actually be completed in a tree in our yard.   Sure that the Hooded Orioles had decided on homes in our trees, I was concentrating on that and  had really given up on  being lucky enough to host the Altamira Orioles.  

But yesterday morning,  walking  past the Ebony tree where the Kiskadees are nesting , I found the nest quite by accident.  Scanning the Ash and Live Oak trees along the side of our yard, I looked up and there it was, construction well under way! I'd been in the yard off and on all day Tuesday but somehow had missed the very obvious nest swinging from the northwest side of a 20-foot Live Oak tree that overhangs the neighbor's drive. (I've never seen an Altamira nest that wasn't on the northwest of a tree on a branch that hangs down and sways in our strong winds.) 

Here's a closer view of the nest.  See how the orioles begin construction at the top and work their way down?  I'm sure you've spotted the oriole inside the nest in the photo, bottom left.  Click to enlarge it.  I want you to get a good look at the strip of something blue on the bottom right. 
If you read an earlier post about Altamira Oriole nests (or clicked the link at the top of this post), you recall that they have helped themselves to the garden twine from a neighbor's greenhouse.  This time they  scavenged some kind of plastic and recycled it into their home. What resourceful birds!

I don't know exactly what it is,  but I've seen bits of that blue plastic in the yard for months.  I even photographed a piece of it on the ground in December!  (It was interesting and kept sort of moving from place to place around the front yard.  I should have picked up the scrap and thrown it away--but instead I took a picture!)  

You may be sensing both what kind of yardskeeper I am (messy) and  also something about my artistic sensibility (I have no idea what adjective would describe that or why I took a photo of torn bits of plastic in the yard).  As soon as I uploaded the photos from camera to computer and looked closely at the blue plastic streamer in the nest, I recognized it and located the other photo taken months ago. (I think the strip of blue plastic may be from a woven tarp that was torn off of a shed or something in Hurricane Dolly.  Or maybe it's part of an old lawn chair. Longer strips of it are still somewhere around because the orioles found them and began their nest by weaving them around the top, letting the ends fall down the sides of their amazing nest-in-progress. The little scrap I took a picture of is still somewhere in the yard.  Maybe I'll continue photographing it as I find it.) 

This morning the nest is quite a bit bulkier than it was a day ago.  I am restraining myself from watching it all the time.  The Bronzed Cowbirds are doing enough of that.  Yesterday, while one oriole was inside of the nest, a cowbird flew across the yard to the nest and circled it quickly without landing.  The other oriole,  just as quickly, chased the cowbird back across the yard.

I've noticed that male Hooded Orioles also stand guard while the female builds their nest, and continue to do so all during the nesting process, chasing cowbirds that get too close.    It's a constant battle for them to fend off the parasitizing pests.  I have not seen Altamiras feeding fledgling cowbirds, but I see Hooded Orioles doing so almost as often as I see them feeding young orioles.  (Perhaps that's why the Hooded Orioles raise as many as three broods each summer, to make up for the heavy parasitizing of their nests by the Bronzed Cowbirds.)

You can see by this photo how interesting the cowbirds look.  Their eyes are demon-red and their mating ritual is fascinating to watch.  The males puff up their neck feathers in a mane (some call them "lion birds") and hover two or three feet off the ground, going straight up and down like little helicopters in an attempt to attract a mate.  If it were not for their habit of laying their eggs in the nests of other birds, sometimes even displacing the eggs laid by the bird whose nest it is, they would be welcome in our yard.  These home-wreckers, however,  are not welcome!

Other pairs of birds are playing musical chairs with nesting sites.    Remember the little Black-crested Titmice that were inspecting various nesting sites in the side and back yards, the male trying to entice a female with food offerings by the nest? (If not, here's a link to the post about them.)  I thought they had  leased the hole in the cottonwood stump (the one on which the titmouse had perched with his caterpillar),  but  as I watched yesterday, a female Golden-fronted Woodpecker emerged from the hole.  It was the woodpecker, after all, that had made the cavity,  so it's only fair for it to use the home if it wants it. 

Look at the beak of the woodpecker in the photo.  It's easy to see how such a strong sharp instrument could quickly excavate a hole in a dead tree.  (Or in the siding on my house.)

Meanwhile, the  titmice have been inspecting yet another nest box, this one hanging from a tree in the front yard.  It has had nest material protruding from the hole.  I don't know what birds have nested there previously.  For days, a House Wren has sung incessantly  close by.  One year I saw the family of some kind of mouse (large with snow-white  breast and belly) in the house.

The 2010 Yard List continues to grow quickly with migrants making brief stops or flyovers.  (I'm a couple of days behind but I think when I add to the list it will be over 130 for the year.) Indigo Buntings and Hooded Warblers (pictured below)  flitted around the yard yesterday and today.  Three kinds of Vireos ( White-eyed, Yellow-throated, and best of all Warbling Vireos) have been in the front yard this week as well as three kinds of wrens (Carolina, House, Bewick's). A Bullock's Oriole came to the nectar feeder midmorning.

We are still waiting on some of our summer-only nesting birds.  Beside the driveway there's a nest box that Brown-crested Flycatchers  have used every year for a decade.  Before that they nested in  old railroad ties that stand on end near the road.  Cavities had rotted out at the ends (the tops) which made nice little nesting places.  When bouganvillea and esperanza (yellow bells) overgrew the raillroad ties, the flycatchers moved to the nest box.  We don't usually see them back home until May.  That's also the month that the Yellow-billed Cuckoos return.  I don't know where they nest,  but it's somewhere close.  They fly through the yard daily, black and white tails streaming, and call from the trees.  My mother always called cuckoos "rain crows," an old-fashioned name for them. Their guttural  kluck-kluck-kluck-kluck-kluck in the stillness that sometimes precedes summer rains reminds me of my childhood home in Oklahoma.

We moved into our house exactly 14 years ago this week.  The yard looks a lot different  than it did then.  Then you could see the house from the road; now it is obscured by trees and shrubs.  Then it had a lawn of "carpet grass"; now there are only small patches that we mow with a push mower.  Then it was landscaped with tropical plants by the previous owners; now it is landscaped by the birds who drop seeds that spread fiddlewood (negrito), chili pequin,  pigeonberry, turk's cap and other native plants.  I love our yard because I love the birds that make their home here.  They share their space with us

1 comment:

ramblingwoods said...

I enjoyed the post and the back posts that you referenced. I have only had a male baltimore oriole here and only briefly..but we do have cowbirds and the song sparrows always seem to raise one which breaks my heart for those little parents and that loud cowbird... I love the sound of your yard, I hope I can get there myself...Michelle