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, May 27, 2010

Is Anybirdy Home?

I skulked around the yard yesterday, spying on nests and any tree or shrub that looked like it could contain a nest.  I found quite a few, some unoccupied.  What prompted me was the three fledgling kiskadees in the photo above,  noisily perched in an oak tree across the driveway from their nest.  The nest, a big round blob in an ebony tree, is one of the most interesting nests in the yard.  Its side entrance is unusual (not for a kiskadee nest, but for nests in general) and it is so conspicuously placed in an exposed fork of an ebony tree that I figure the birds won't mind if I walk around under it.

The nest is the one I wrote about in early April  (here and here).  I can't be sure when the babies hatched, but the adults have been busy feeding them in the nest for the last ten days at least (since we returned from Florida).  Now three hungry fledglings clamor  for handouts from trees within about a 30 yard radius of the nest.

The Brown-crested Flycatcher nest is also empty.  On Sunday the parents were still carrying in bugs and flies (see last  Sunday's blog),  but by Monday afternoon all was quiet, nobody home.  I watched from the deck yesterday but saw no sign of flycatchers, young or old.  I knew from previous years that the flycatchers did not stay particularly close to the nest just after fledging.  Only once have I seen a young one make its first flight, poking its head up out of the vertical railroad tie a couple of times and then flying to the oak tree.  But I thought I would see them this time since they were so close to the deck I spend so much time on. I looked for the flycatcher family yesterday but never saw any birds that looked like fledglings.

Today I did.  Unfortunately, what I saw was a flycatcher interacting with a fledgling Bronzed Cowbird.  Cowbird  parasitism affects not just flycatchers but cardinals and especially hooded orioles, at least by my observations.  I hope that the one cowbird chick I saw was not the only young bird the flycatchers raised in their house beside our house.  I'll be watching for signs of successful nesting.

The Northern Mockingbirds have been frantically singing all day and into the night.  We have more than just one pair, so I don't know if the loudest most persistent singer is the same one that has a nest in the neighbor's small Anacua tree.  I suspect the singer is an unmated male that is trying to find a mate.  It's been over a month since the mated pair build their nest of thorny twigs about 4 feet off the ground in the anacua.  At least one fairly good sized chick is in the nest.  I hope it's not a cowbird.  I looked very quickly when the adults were out of sight but not close enough to take a picture or examine the nestling.  I felt bad enough about the quick peek.

In the nest photo you can see the rough sandpapery leaves of the Anacua, a wonderful native tree.  Some call it "sandpaper tree."  You know it's a favorite of berry-loving birds such as Mockingbirds and Kiskadees because they accidentally "plant" so many seeds beneath their favorite perches. (Not an accident, of course in nature's design.)

And speaking further of Anacuas, their green/gold  berries are turning brighter gold and a few already orange.  The nest tree is too small for berries yet, which is probably fortunate for the birds since when  anacua berries ripen, the tree is a magnet for kingbirds, kiskadees, mockingbirds, thrashers, green jays and woodpeckers.  I noticed yesterday in my ramble around the yard that a few of the gold berries are ripening to orange.  If you look really close at the picture of the fledgling Kiskadees at the top of this post, you can see that one has a berry in its beak.  I first thought it was a red berry of the fiddlewood but then decided it was a bright orange anacua berry because the fiddlewood berries are black when ripe (thus the alternate name negrito).  I wouldn't think an adult Kiskadee would feed its young unripe fruit!   Regardless, the young bird didn't seem to know what to do with the berry ripe or not.  It clutched it in its beak for the longest time.

The Altamira Oriole nest in the Live Oak tree to the west of the driveway is also unoccupied.  I have not seen any orioles at the nest since we came home.  I wonder if that, too, is caused by the cowbirds.  The orioles are nearby but are not in our yard as much as they were in April.  There's not been enough time since the nest was built in mid April for birds to have completed nesting, and I think I would see them going in and out of the large pendulous nest if they were still there. Although I did not see any contentious acts on the part of the Kiskadees, whose nest was about 15 or 20 feet away, perhaps the orioles considered them noisy neighbors and went elsewhere.  I have seen Kiskadees land on the nest a few times.  Another possibility I hope is not true is the issue of cats--we have too many in the neighborhood that are hunters.  But Altamira Orioles do not perch low enough to fall victim easily.  I have seen only one oriole at a time since we returned from Florida and never on the nest.  I'm certainly hoping to see a family in the yard soon.

In addition to the three noisy, hungry Northern Kiskadees, I know that Starlings and Great-tailed Grackles and Golden-fronted Woodpeckers already have successfully nested. I'll keep reporting on what I find in my front-yard spying. Perhaps my reluctance to get too close to nesting areas means I miss some clues.   I'm just disappointed that  such a beautiful Altamira Oriole nest isn't being used. Something happened when we were away from home, but I don't really know what --and there's no reason to think the orioles aren't elsewhere in the neighborhood or across the river.


KaHolly said...

Hi Kay, don't you just hate that feeling of having to second guess nature? I don't know if this applies to your orioles, but I have read that the Baltimore Oriole, among other species, sometimes build 'dummy' nests. That is one beautifully constructed nest - I don't know if the dummies are so 'complete'! I so enjoyed seeing your nests and getting a peek at some of your babies. Fortunately, I'm not in an area where there are cowbirds. ~karen

KaHolly said...

I was thinking about your post as I pondered the whereabouts of my yellow warblers. They are always summer residents in my hedgerow but when they returned this year, they didn't stay. I'm so curious to know why.