Into the Nest: Intimate Views of the Courting, Parenting, and Family Lives of Familiar Birds
[Miyoko] Good evening. Thank you for joining us for tonight’s Monday night seminar. Someone said they couldn’t hear? How’s that? Is that louder.
[Miyoko] Okay. So welcome. My name is Miyoko Chu, I’m the Cornell Lab of Ornithology senior director of communications. And whether you’re here in the room or watching our live stream from somewhere else in the world, we want to welcome you and really appreciate you being here. So special thanks also to all of you who support the Lab through your membership or your donations. You make our work possible, we’re very grateful for that.
So as today, the first egg hatched in the nest of Big Red and Ezra, our red-tails who are featured on the live bird cams from the Cornell campus. So spring is definitely here, and what better topic could we have for tonight than the mat, subject matter of this book Into the Nest: Intimate Views of the Courting, Parenting, and Family Lives of Familiar Birds.
You see on the screen as well. We’re fortunate to have both authors here in person and Marie Read who is also the photographic editor for this book. Both of them are here and able to sign books afterward, and if you’d like to take a copy home with you these are available in the Wild Birds Unlimited store.
So both Marie and Laura are wonderfully knowledgeable about birds, but they’re also both wonderfully skilled at being keen observers and having these wonderful experiences and sharing them with the public. Marie is a renowned wildlife photographer, she was a founding editor of the All About Birds website, and is a frequent contributor to the Lab’s websites and publications today in addition to other birding and wildlife magazines. She’s the author of three books, Common Birds and Their Songs, Secret Lives of Common Birds, and her most recent one Sierra Wings: The Birds of Mono Lake Basin.
Now Laura has been a middle school teacher, a writer, and a spokesperson for the birds. In fact she’s perhaps most widely known for her radio show by that name, For the Birds, which is the longest-running radio show nationally, but she’s also known for her eight books, including the National Outdoor Book Award winner Sharing the Wonder of Birds with Kids, as well as 100 Ways to Help Birds, and National Geographic Pocket Guide to Birds of North America.
We were very fortunate to lure her from her home in Duluth, Minnesota for two years to serve as the Cornell Lab science editor from 2008 to 2010. And it’s, our collaboration has been followed since then with two books that Laura’s written in association with the Lab, The Bird Watching Answer Book and now Into the Nest.
In 2014 she won the American Birding Association’s highest honor, the Roger Tory Peterson Award. And what about both Laura and Marie is their ability to draw everyone into a bird story. They do it with humor, with insight, and passion. So I’m really grateful to them for joining us tonight, and looking forward to their stories.
[Laura] The start with me talking mostly about the bird natural behavior, and Marie will take over to talk about how we got some of the amazing photographs in the book. One of the things that I thought about when I was talking with the editors when we were first planning this book, they’re not birders, and they wanted to know how.
You know we talked about the birds and the bees, but nobody even seems to realize that birds have totally different equipment than mammals, and do things entirely differently.
So mammals have their babies, the babies except for a couple of exceptions, the babies are born live not in an egg, but we do have duck-billed platypuses and things like that. Most of them are born alive and they nurse to get their food, the whole word mammal comes from a mammary gland.
Birds do it entirely differently. Their babies come out within an egg and hatch. And the biology’s a little bit because eggs can crack
[Slide text: Into the Nest: Intimate Views of the Courting, Parenting, and Family Lives of Familiar Birds. Laura Erickson & Marie Read; Photo: Cedar waxwing adult at nest with three nestlings begging]
and get a mess instead of a baby.
[Slide text: Mammals vs. Birds; Photos: Dog with puppies feeding and great blue herons mating in a nest with eggs]
And so most birds only have one functional ovary.
[Image: Diagram of female bird reproductive organs]
And that way they don’t have to worry about if they ovulated on both sides at once and the eggs both came down and collided, that would. You know, they’d have scrambled eggs instead of the babies.
So their system is different and we went into some detail in how it works for birds. They used to call me the Dr. Ruth of ornithology a few places.
But I’m going to start by talking about the bird I fell in love with.
[Photo: Great blue heron perched in a tree]
The male great blue heron who nested in the big tree in the pond back starting in 2009, my second year here. And I took pictures of him all the time. And I took this picture of him. If I blew up the picture you could see that he’s missing his back toe on one foot, and missing the front claw on an, on the other foot.
But I took that picture so I was very happy to see that my boy is still around. Great blue herons are fascinated for many reasons. The one here in the pond was very, very territorial. And so the second year there was a second nest, but they spent much of the summer squabbling. And that pair didn’t return. This guy raised 20 babies in that nest that all fledged before the nest collapsed last year.
[Photo: Several herons and heron nests in trees]
Most herons seem to nest in colonies, and the word for a colony when it’s a heron is technically a heronry, but we often call any bird colony a rookery. That originated actually in Europe with rooks. But herons are a good example to start with about bird reproduction.
You have a lot of tricks when you have birds. Most of the year their sex organs are excess baggage, and we’re talking about things that fly in the sky and need to reduce their body weight as much as possible. So most of the year male birds’ testes shrink, and females they are you know they’re just totally not hormonal.
And starting in spring, usually the first trigger is changing day length. And we detect that right away in January when chickadees start singing, and when downy woodpeckers start drumming. But even that isn’t enough to get them ready. Those chickadees are not even physically capable of, she could not produce an egg in the winter. Her body is not ready. And he cannot produce the sperm yet. They have to do a lot of singing, and going through pairing off, and the weather, and the changes in their diet, and all kinds of things work together so that the male and female are ready together.
When we have great big birds like great blue herons they have to synchronize precisely when their bodies are ready to be making babies. And one of the ways they do it is to build a nest.
[Photo: Male great blue heron presenting a stick to female heron in a nest]
They don’t say it with flowers in the world of great blue herons, they say it with sticks. The coolest thing was watching our pair back in 2009, somebody sent out an email to everybody at the Lab that they’re bringing sticks to that tree, the herons look like they’re going to be nesting just over there. And the male was bringing her sticks.
But we’re talking about a very, very old tree that the branches were kind of smooth. And every time he brought her a stick she’d try to wedge it in, where you know, the trunk, where a branch came out. And every time the stick fell in the water, and they leaned over and looked.
The sticks did not stick. And I will bet he brought 50 sticks before one stuck. And a couple of times he actually tried to wedge it in for her, you know, and she watched, but his fell just as much as hers did.
But they finally got one stick in, and then he had to make efforts before they got the second one to stick. And then they had a triangle, and then it was easy. And they used the big sticks on the bottom. But think about it. If you lay an egg in a nest that was woven out of a bunch of big sticks there are crevasses, and what if the egg slips in between the sticks?
So as, they got a platform, then they started breaking off little twigs off the sticks and making a nice floor with, that was much more tightly packed with little twigs. And every time he brought a stick they went through all kinds of cool little displays.
[Photo: Herons displaying on a nesting platform]
These are not those herons, but these are other great blue herons. And we have some extraordinary pictures, none of which I took. But we also got great pictures from our nest cam. And I’m going to go through a bunch of them. Every time he brought sticks, once they have a floor, I think something about the floor is what triggers her. I don’t think she’ll lay an egg, I don’t think she’ll ovulate after it’s about 24 hours before the egg comes out, down the oviduct.
And I don’t think she ovulates until there’s enough of a floor that the egg won’t, gets wedged in the sticks. So when she, but they’re mating. They start mating, when he would bring a stick then they would go through all kinds of displays.
And the two times you could count on them mating would be after he brought a stick, or right after she laid an egg.
[Photo: Great blue herons mating in a nest with two eggs]
And he just, it made him feel so happy and romantic, and it made her feel happy and romantic, too. And that year they happened to lay five eggs. And I love this picture
[Photo: Great blue heron settling down to incubate five eggs in the nest, with his brood patch visible]
because you can actually see his brood patch. When they’re sitting on the eggs, they’re warm-blooded like mammals, but she’s not keeping the babies inside her body where they can be warm to develop. And so they sit on them. Feathers are designed to hold their own body heat in, not to transfer it to the eggs so they have to have a way of parting their feathers without any down feathers blocking the way. So they compress their hot skin on the eggs.
The eggs are maintained normally between 98 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Which is pretty darned impressive. And you can see his hot, hot skin. He doesn’t need that huge of a brood patch even though they have five eggs. Relative to his whole size they aren’t that big.
With black-capped chickadees that lay nine eggs, which are much tinier than heron eggs but are bigger relative to the chickadee’s body size, they have an enormous brood patch on the females because they have to cover all those eggs and keep their eggs at that to 100 degrees.
But they sit on them rain or shine
[Photo: Great blue heron on a nest in the rain]
and their bodies, when it’s cold and windy and stuff they’re underneath their feathers their body is dry, and the eggs are being maintained that temperature. Their feathers are not waterproof.
[Photo: Close up of feathers with water droplets on them]
But by using their preen oil they’re conditioning their feathers, the way hand lotion conditions our skin. And that conditioning allows the feathers, they stay supple, and they zip together, and water forms droplets. And it can’t squeeze through the spaces when they’re properly zipped. But eventually if they’re out in the rain long enough birds can get pretty waterlogged.
But it was not only rain. The week before the eggs were due to hatch one morning I got up, turned on the cam, and it looked like that
[Photo: Heron on a nest covered in snow]
and I thought huh? That’s snow. It’s snowed like eight inches, and he was in the middle there. It was dad on the nest, and it was an amazing day. He got up a couple of times, he turned the eggs, and he got back down again.
[Photo: Heron standing above eggs on a nest covered in snow]
He had been on the nest all night, and at midmorning he was still on the nest. At noon he was still on the nest. At three in the afternoon he was still on the nest, and people were panicking. What’s happened to mom, did she just ship? And finally at something, between four and four-thirty he flew off. And people started panicking, he’s not going to come back, he’s giving up. And he was gone for only like a minute and a half, he’d flown like that way, and then he came back and got back on the nest. Well five minutes later mom flew in from that way. He must have flown over her and muttered a few little avian obscenities
about getting back to work. And she finally came back. Well the next week people were worried about the, about you know the eggs freezing.
Oh and I didn’t throw in pictures an attack by a great horned owl in the middle of the night one night. And she came back another once or twice. And at one point when she dove down the mom must have like crunched down a little bit and one of the eggs ended up with a dent about this size where you could see all these little cracks in the egg and it was pushed in just a little bit, and everybody was worried about what with that one.
Well, we’re pretty sure at least might still hatch, even though we’d had all the snow and trauma. The little baby herons, we don’t have a picture of a heron’s egg tooth
[Photo: Gull chick with egg tooth circled]
but they have one at the tip of their bill. This is a gull. But the heron much longer, and you have to picture a heron in the middle of this egg.
[Photo: Heron egg in a nest]
And it’s facing down, and it’s long, long beak is down near its feet. And it’s kind of , and it scrapes through and makes a pip, that’s a little tiny hole, and then it has to keep working. Well we discovered while we were watching the cam, which has sound. That while it was scraping that egg open it was also talking. And very quickly, like within an hour the second egg pipped. Even though they had been laid something like two days apart. One baby was two days older than the next, older than the next one.
But hear, not hearing anybody made the first one not in a big hurry to leave. And then the second one was hearing it, because they can hear inside that egg. And as it was hearing, it wanted to come out. So they hatched within a couple hours.
[Photo: Heron chicks hatching with a parent looking on]
Well now think about that little baby. So it’s been scraping this hole near the bottom of its body and it scrapes around and around, and it kind of squeezes its way through, rotating its whole body, to get all the way around, to make that little circle. And then it uses its feet to push off and crack open the bottom of the egg. But its head, with that long beak, was stuck in the big half of the egg.
And the dad was the one there when the babies hatched. And he kind of helped a little bit, but he didn’t want to be accidentally crushing, but he was very careful. And the babies really had to work to get that thing off, and people in the Cornell cam, um, a chat room, called that, named that the shellmet.
Because it was like a little, big shellmet. But little by little the dad helped tough and then and when part of the eggshell he’d just fling it, and so, and it was gone. But so we got two babies right away, and they, and then the third
[Photo: Adult heron standing above hatching eggs in the nest]
and fourth eggs hatched, not, hatched it was at least a day or two later, and the fifth egg hatched noticeably later than all the others.
[Photo: View from above of adult heron with chicks and eggs]
And the babies, after they had time to dry off were just really cute in an ugly sort of way.
It depends on how strong your you know maternal, paternal, uh, drive is how cute you think they are. And the parents would come they don’t food in because they don’t have feet that are talons that are carrying feet that can carry the fish to the nest. And their bill is not designed to carry fish like a puffin bill.
So the way they got the fish to the nest is they ate the fish out there, and then they came back and regurgitated a pile of at first very soft fish. They would wait a long time for their stomach juices to do a lot of work, and and the, it was really cool when the parents would come in. They would just point their bill down, the babies would touch it, and that’s part of what stimulates the regurgitation reflex. And the parents would wait until all the babies were paying attention who were already hatched. And then they would just regurgitate a pile of yucky fish.
[Photo: Eggs, chicks, and regurgitated fish in the nest]
And they were soft and goopy at first, and the babies could not swallow the whole fish. But the fish were soft enough that they could take big bites out of them. And then they would you know, so they would eat their fill
[Photo: Another chick hatches but some eggs still remain]
and now we’re having a third egg hatching.
[Photo: Adult heron looking on as the third egg hatches, with two other chicks and two remaining eggs]
And I’m going to go back and forth between the cam pictures and my, from 2012, and my own pictures.
[Photo: Two adult herons in tree with nestlings in the nest]
This is one I took in 2009. The parents would just come and regurgitate fish for the babies and the babies
[Photo: Adult heron feeding nestlings as another adult is perched nearby]
even no matter how big they were getting, they got
[Photo: Heron nestlings and adult in the nest]
rest of them would be tapping the bills. We had some babies in that 2012 nest that were very big when the fifth egg hatched. And everybody was worried about that one because it was so little. Well one thing I noticed is that every time dad or mom regurgitated they made sure that all five babies were watching, and regurgitated the pile close littlest two.
And the others still got the lion’s share, they were bigger and tougher, but we bird people called Fiver because it was the fifth, that one would kind of sneak in, and was just this little quick little guy to get everything. And the parents were just very patient about coming. As the babies got bigger and could handle bigger fish, the parents came quicker after swallowing the fish so the fish were more and more intact.
When they were still, when the babies were little the parents could regurgitate a big pile, but after. I don’t know what triggered it in the parents but all of a sudden they would decide well they’re done eating, and they would swallow back the food.
By the time the babies were big the babies were very demanding, and the parents I’m sure lost weight during the last couple weeks. But the babies got you know pretty aggressive
[Photo: Nestling herons biting on adult heron’s bill as he attempts to feed them]
you know touching their bills and clamping down on him, which was counterproductive because the adults couldn’t open it to regurgitate when the babies were holding it shut. The coolest time
[Photo: Adult heron feeding chicks]
all the babies were just really crushing in. One day, when they were getting,
[Photos: Series from webcam of adult heron delivering fish to the chicks]
exactly this size because this was that day. Dad came back and the fish top on his stomach when he regurgitated, had not been in his stomach very long. It was a goldfish, and it was still alive. And the babies instantly want to eat this fish, but it was and it it, you could see its gills moving, and every now and then its tail would wiggle, and one time its whole body jumped up. Well when they touched it and it did that they all kind of jumped back.
And they’re staring at the fish, what the heck is this? And dad went and touched it, he picked it up and dropped it again. And they were just thinking they had never seen such thing, they did not know that fish could be alive.
And this one started trying to eat it, and it thrashed again, and he jumped back. And the one on the side went and finally got it down. And they all stared at him like whoa.
But being up in the nest they had to protect the babies. Some nests have shelter, you know, some are inside a cavity, or some kind of structure to protect them. Some are under other branches that protect the babies as well as rain. And the herons themselves had to provide the shade on really hot days.
[Photo: Adult heron with wings open above the chicks to give them shade]
And they would open their wings to shade the babies. And it was really cool to watch. The other thing is herons are big, clumsy birds, they look like they’re big and clumsy. They never stepped on a baby. And it was just really cool watching how, like when they would have to get down on the eggs they would put their feet on either side of the egg, and they’d ease themselves down, and they were putting their body weight on their breast muscle and the eggs while their hot little incubation patch was warming the eggs. It was really cool to watch.
[Photo: Adult heron with wings partially open above the chicks to give them shade]
But herons do all these weird things with their wings when they want to make shade. And while dad was doing that he could still preen,
[Photo: Adult heron preening while his wings are open shading the chicks]
and he could look down at the babies got hot they learned, they knew all by themselves how to do this.
[Photo: Heron at the top of a tree with wings held low and wide and bill open]
This is not one of those babies, it’s a different picture, but that’s what they do when they’re sunning, and it’s just really, you wouldn’t think something as graceful and gorgeous as a heron in the air could look that awkward, but they do.
[Photo: Heron chick in the nest with adults standing nearby]
But the babies grew, and the babies had to cut, once the babies fledged one by one they had to return to the nest.
[Photo: Four herons in the tree near the nest]
That was the only way the parents knew to feed them. And so the parents were very loyal about coming back and feeding them. I would come back
[Photo: Adult heron feeding a fledgling in the tree by the nest]
in 2012. I lived right by the airport in the apartments on Warren, on Warren Road. And so I would come back every day in late afternoon or early evening before sunset to make sure all four of the babies from 2009 were back before I would go to sleep.
[Photo: Heron from the front, looking directly at the camera]
But they didn’t seem that aware of the cam, but you never know.
Well our next bird is one that took more photographic skills. The mallard.
[Photo: Male mallard in breeding plumage on water]
The word mallard. Mallards are found naturally on almost every continent of the world, and they’ve been introduced in Australia. The word mallard, the M-A-L-L comes from old French for masculine or male. The A-R-D is pejorative order sluggard because mallards epitomize the worst of masculinity, that is probably how they got their name. They mate with anything that will hold still long enough to let them.
And we will let Marie talk about how you get pictures of all that.
[Photo: Pair of mallards with the male displaying]
[Marie] The mallards are so common and widespread that we tend to ignore them, you know. But but like other ducks the males, the drake mallards perform some dramatic courtship displays that you can see in late winter or early in the spring.
This one is performing what’s called the grunt he dips his bill into the water and he arches his whole body out of the water, flipping this arc of droplets into the air, and whistling sharply, and then he settles back down on the water’s surface to swim around with, with this grunting call first. Now photographing displays is pretty challenging.
They hold these odd-looking poses for such a brief time, plus it’s kind of hard to predict what, which male is going to display next.
So if you want to try this be prepared to spend a bunch of time
[Photo: Photographer in camouflage with large camera on a tripod in a wooded area]
doing it. And you need to be sitting around in this fashionable gear waiting for these mallards to do their displays. And use a tripod it’s best to use a tripod to support your gear when you’re waiting for one of these ducks like I’m doing here.
Otherwise you’re going to tire quickly while you’re waiting for the action. And for most of my bird photography I use a Canon 7D2 camera body with a 500 millimeter lens and 1.4 teleconverter on that. And it’s all on a Wimberley tripod.
[Photo: Male mallards displaying]
Mallard courtship and pair formation actually start in the fall, and it goes all the way through the winter into the spring. And like most duck courtship it’s a social event. So head to your local duck pond and watch for a group of mallards all milling around together agitatedly, and then listen for the whistled calls that they do during those displays, and watch closely because each of those displays only lasts a fraction of a second.
Although you do, they do sometimes do these very subtle head shakes before they display, and that’s a good cue. This one’s doing the head up, tail up display.
So my strategy to try and photograph them
[Photo: Two male mallards]
doing their displays is to focus on an individual male that’s just displayed, because he’s the hot guy and he’s likely to do these displays again shortly. And then what I do is I pan along with him, that is I swing the camera around keeping him as he swims around. And it takes a lot of good concentration to do that, and quick reflexes to, to fire off that shutter immediately he displays.
And if you notice a male and female mallard bobbing their heads up
[Photo: Male and female mallard mating in water]
and down together. Um that’s a cue that they’re going to mate, which they do on the water. And such, to such an extent that the female is sometimes almost submerged. I have to say that doesn’t look like much fun if you’re a female duck to me.
[Photo: Mallard eggs in a nest on the ground]
[Laura] Well the whole point of all that is to make baby ducks. And the female chooses a mate who will kind of protect her from other males, and will be observant about danger. But he only sticks around until she’s produced a full clutch. And after she’s incubating and has lost interest and her body has lost the ability to produce more eggs, he loses goes off with a bunch of other male mallards.
And that’s when males start going on, molting, and going into their eclipse plumage.
[Photo: Female mallard leading ten ducklings in water]
But she is very devoted mother. If you look at baby ducks you tend to see big groups of tiny baby ducks, and smaller groups as they get bigger because of things like snapping turtles and fi—and big fish and things. It’s not easy to be a baby duck, apparently. But they imprint on her, they follow her. She makes little sounds as they’re hatching.
Unlike the great blue herons that can afford to hatch days apart, baby ducks have to hatch within hours because once they’re all hatched the mother leads them off the nest and they never ever go back.
Baby wood ducks, once they start jumping out, if anybody hasn’t hatched by the time the other guys jump out, that one is not going to have a family. And so it’s more critical for ducks to synchronize their hatching, even though it can have been two weeks between the first one being laid and the last one being laid. Even that sometimes.
And because of the span of time between first and last, the mother does not ever start incubating any of the eggs until she has her full clutch. So all those babies will have the same birthday. And they just keep growing.
[Photo: Female mallard with ducklings standing in very shallow water]
And they’re pretty cute little guys. And then and they get to be about the mother’s size. They have their highest probability of survival the longer they stay with their mother, even after they start looking
[Photo: Ducklings in a group]
like regular ducks. But eventually they all go their separate ways. And all seem to do just fine.
[Photo: Two downy woodpeckers on a tree branch]
Woodpeckers start their drumming behaviors in midwinter. And so you know by February you can often hear downy woodpeckers drumming away. They have a lot of cool courtship behaviors, like their butterfly flight between trees. And it’s very highly romantic.
Woodpeckers have the unique problem. There’s a trade off, when you nest inside a tree cavity you have a lot of protection from the elements. What are you, what’s the cost of that, besides having to make that hole? The other cost is that the hole is so deep
[Photo: Woodpecker nesting cavity inside a tree with eggs in it]
inside the tree that carbon dioxide builds up unless there’s some sort of fan going, which there isn’t. The mother or father can be incubating those eggs for a long period of time before they leave, and the other parent takes over. One is on the nest all night long, almost always the father. The father always has night duty in the case of woodpeckers. But carbon dioxide is building up there.
So to minimize the amount of time that they’re in the egg, they hatch out as quickly as possible
[Photo: Woodpecker hatchlings in a nest cavity]
while they’re babies, while their bodies are very undeveloped. They’re less developed than most baby birds when they leave the egg. Now, their parents are going to be feeding them, right? Flying in and out, and flying in and out forces fresh air in. So now the oxygen can be a little bit better for their little growing bodies. And the pay, the hole is way up at the top
[Photo: Woodpecker nestlings stretching up in the nest cavity to be fed by one of the parents]
and the babies have to reach up, and they get pretty good at clambering or sitting on each other sometimes when the parents. You know, as soon as they can reach up the parents are going to be giving them some of that food without having to get all the way down. But these pictures are pretty amazing.
[Photos: Woodpecker chicks just hatched, at one week old, and 15-16 days old in the nest cavity]
[Marie] Yeah, we humans usually have to wait to see the outcome of a woodpecker’s nesting until the big, the young are big enough that they can stick their heads out of the the entrance. So we’re lucky indeed to have these glimpses of what’s going on inside that cavity through Stan Tekiela’s amazing photograph nest interiors.
So you might be asking what on Earth goes into getting images like this? Well a photography project like this is very difficult, very time-consuming. Um it would have involved carefully cutting away part of the tree, the nest tree, on the opposite side of the nest entrance, taking great care of course, not to damage the nest contents, or freak the adults out too much into abandoning their their effort. And then somehow surrounding that opening, that artificial success is a testament to his skills and caution here.
[Photo: Northern flicker at the top of a snag]
And the northern flicker’s another bird whose nesting activities are mostly hidden from us. They’re pretty obvious in the spring when they’re giving their loud territorial calls from up in, up in the trees like this. And you might even notice a pair mating on a branch near their nest tree if you’re lucky.
[Photo: Pair of northern flickers mating on a branch]
But what’s happening inside that nest cavity? Well the northern flicker is one of
[Photo: Northern flicker eggs in nest cavity with wood chips]
few, very few woodpeckers that will accept an existing cavity, or a nest box. So it’s a bit easier to photograph inside an artificial cavity like this. And that’s what photographer Bill Dyke does.
[Photo: Northern flicker hatchlings on wood chips]
So he gets a log, and he hollows it out himself to make a nest cavity that’s complete with an entrance hole. And he leaves an opening or makes an opening in the back to, or the side for the camera and the lens and lighting. And then he hangs these natural-looking nest boxes in his woods
[Photo: Northern flicker adult male brooding nestlings in nest cavity]
and waits for a pair of chickadees or nuthatches or flickers to move in. And that allows us to have great looks, rare looks in fact of flicker eggs and flicker nestlings. And here’s a male brooding its young. And female feeding young.
[Photo: Northern flicker feeding nestlings in nest cavity]
It’s a different photographer this time.
But this technique of making an artificial nest cavity doesn’t work for other woodpeckers
[Photo: Northern flicker nestlings reaching out from the cavity to be fed by an adult]
like the hairies and downies. It works for flickers fine, but the other birds um prefer to excavate their own cavities.
[Photo: Young flicker clinging to a white mat]
[Laura] If you looked at that nest, the eggs in it, there were nine.
[Photo: Northern flicker nestlings reaching out from the cavity to be fed by an adult]
Flickers are what you call indeterminate layers. When you have mourning doves, they always lay two eggs. If somebody takes one egg they don’t replace it. Then they’ll only have one egg. Most birds if you take one egg they’ll lay another to replace it, but when they have a full clutch they’ll stop. A determinate layer will only lay the right number. An indeterminate layer will keep laying if you keep taking them out.
And one poor flicker, I forget how many, laid 71 eggs before she, because they kept, some ornithologist’s writing it down dutifully in his field notebook every day, watched her lay 71 eggs before her poor body gave out. The normal clutch is five to eight.
This bird was functionally illiterate, and she did not have access to the web so could not look up All About Birds to see how many she was supposed to lay, so she laid nine. But the baby flickers or other woodpeckers, as they’re growing they start reaching at the top of the cavity. They do not leave the cavity until they can fly strongly.
Think about a baby robin or blue jay. If it jumps out of the nest before it can fly, there’s branches right there to kind of catch it. And you know, and then it’s going to flutter around. So they can leave the nest before they can fly, that’s why people .
[Photo: Young flicker clinging to a white mat]
When I had baby flickers I could just stick them anywhere, and they would just stick like velcro, their little claws.
And they like to be fed. And woodpeckers
[Photo: Young flicker being fed by a person with a dropper]
regurgitate their food, so they don’t put little pieces in. There was actually a case of a screech owl that was written about by John K. Terres in his Audubon Encyclopedia of North, North American Birds, who had lost its own babies or somehow didn’t have a mate that year and he adopted a family of flickers. He would go into the cavity and incubate the eggs when the parents were gone, and when they came back he’d just leave.
And when the babies hatched he was trying to feed them little pieces of mouse, but flickers aren’t, don’t know how to open their mouth wide enough because they just have to do that to the parents and the parents regurgitate the food into their mouths, so it didn’t work. But little birds need sunshine
[Photo: Two young flickers clinging to a person’s pants]
at least part of the time, and they poke their heads out of the nest and they’re getting a little sunshine. So I could take them for walks.
But as soon as they could fly at all, they had to go outside. Because just a couple of wing beats in a room this size, four wing beats and they’d be collided with the wall. And in my house, which is considerably smaller, just one and a half wing beats would get them knocking into something.
So they immediately had to stay outside after that. And so, but they would fly to us and land hard when they wanted to eat, and so we could feed them back and forth. And they were so
[Photo: A boy feeding a young flicker with a dropper outside]
violent to each other competing for food that sometimes
[Photos: Series of a boy feeding flickers outside, with one flicker on each of his shoulders]
you had to try and feed them both simultaneously. But little by little they get independent, and go their way. Oh and my son the next year, the next spring, ours stayed dependent on us for they were still getting most of their food from us at the end of August, where normally they would be pretty independent by then. And they were getting more natural food. We were showing them where ant hills were.
I did not know how to slam my head into a tree to get out bugs.
That they had to figure out on their own. But little by little they picked up their skills while we were subsidizing them. It’s sort of like hacking out when you’re releasing baby hawks. But the following he was doing his paper route, a flicker looked at him and he made the whistle that we used to do when we went out in the yard, and poof he landed on his chest.
So that was very exciting.
[Photo: Two young flickers]
[Audio cuts] radio show I do a lot of stuff about nature’s perfect bird
[Photo: Blue jay perched on a flowering branch]
unless you hate them.
Blue Jays are so beautiful, they are so intelligent, they are so bonded to their family, they know their neighbors. There’s one case that Terres wrote about in his Audubon Encyclopedia about a jay that was very and had gotten really bad cataracts, and was fairly blind. And the other jays would bring food and they would leave water. And they they’re smarter than people think.
And McGowan and his associates have done on crows tells you corvids are just amazing. But they migrate. Nobody’s ever figured out
[Photo: Five blue jays in flight near a tree]
blue jay migration. They used to think it was mainly the young birds that migrate, and not so much the adults. But more detailed studies now are showing it’s more unpredictable than they’d even realized. But blue jays do a lot of really cool
[Photo: Blue jay calling while perched on a branch]
things like their pump handle call, where they inflate their throat. They actually have a pouch in here too that they can go to your feeder and fill it up with with seeds to carry off. Those are your neighborhood jays who are caching the food. But then they’re like this, but this one’s actually making the call and the swelling is a little higher up. They’re very romantic with their mates, blue jays do mate for life.
[Photo: Pair of blue jays touching beaks together while courting]
And they stay bonded and usually stay together through the year. But they get all romantic around their anniversary every year.
And they feed each other, and they call it kissing because sometimes there isn’t food involved. But they do all these romantic things. They are not photograph though.
[Photo: Blue jay nest with five eggs]
Because they are so skittish around people. Blue jays use their crest as body language. When they’re doing family things their crest is pressed tight against their heads.
[Photo: Blue jay with crest flattened sitting on a nest]
and these jays are obviously very comfortable
[Photo: Two adult blue jays near their nest with nestlings in it]
even though there’s obviously a photographer watching them.
[Marie] Photographing on any open cup song bird nests with great caution to avoid disturbing the birds into abandoning their effort, or exposing the nest to predators. But in the early days of bird photography, nest photography was the way that you could obtain photographs of small birds. You just couldn’t get close to them otherwise, they didn’t have the big telephoto lenses like we all do now.
And so that work, those nest photographs, were the work of specialists like the late Ron Austing. And we’re very lucky to have some of Ron’s nest photos, including scarlet tanagers, and American crows, and great horned owls, as well as these jays, in our book. They’re all very difficult birds to photograph at the nest.
So Ron was one of those dedicated naturalist photographers of a bygone era who spent hours observing birds, locating their nests, some of them very high in the trees and very difficult to find, painstakingly building towers into the trees so he could get up there, and gradually introducing blinds and camera gear.
And sometimes the prep work for stuff like this
[Photo: Tripod with dummy camera set up outside near a tree]
takes more time than the actual photography. And photographing an open cup nest is something I rarely do anymore. It’s just too time, time consuming, and too invasive too for me. But one issue is getting the birds used to having camera equipment near their nests. And when you can’t expect birds to behave naturally if all of a sudden all this camera gear shows up with this eyeball looking down it, you know you just can’t do it.
So this is a dummy camera and tripod that my wonderful husband made for me. And I often, if I’m doing cup nest photography I’ll put this near the nest distance at first, and then moving it slowly closer and closer and closer over time.
And then when comes time for the actual photography I’ll switch in
[Photo: Tripod with camera set up outside]
a real camera and a tripod. And um what I’m using here also is a radio-controlled remote trigger called a pocket wizard that I activate from a distance to fire the camera and a flash with my binoculars.
So that previous generation of bird photographers like
[Photo: Adult blue jay at the nest with four nestlings begging]
Isidor Jeklin we relied on camera gear that was way less user-friendly than what we have today. So their flashes would have been huge, enormous batteries to run them, long cables, and all that kind of stuff. Lots of electronic stuff, very heavy. But you know these people’s blue jays shots are still among the best we have.
[Photo: Adult blue jay feeding nestlings at the nest]
So as you can tell a lot of time consuming work goes into obtaining these shots of the family lives of birds.
[Laura] I’m not sure there’s anything on the planet more adorable than a baby blue jay, except maybe my puppy.
Baby blue jays are just so winsome
[Photo: Blue jay fledgling perched on a branch]
and when they, they’re so nice to their brothers and sisters, they never squabble and, unlike baby who go for the eyes. I think the reason flickers have those flanges at the edges of their gape is to protect their eyes from their brothers and sisters.
But the baby blue jays are just so adorable.
[Photo: Blue jay adult near a fledgling begging with its wings out on a branch]
They are so adorable that when I would rehab
[Photo: Blue jay fledgling perched on a chair begging with wings spread]
baby blue jays my golden retriever, this one was begging to my golden retriever Bunter, who came running to bring me into the room.
It was like, “Timmy has fallen down the well, the baby blue jay is hungry. Come rescue him.”
And and it works you know. And they stay with the parents through the summer, and sometimes you know well into the fall. And sometimes the babies join with other babies at that point and do their migration, or whatever they’re going to do. Nobody’s entirely figured that out. That’s one of the cool mysteries that people are still trying to figure out.
Well yesterday when I was taking my walk
[Photo: Male Baltimore oriole perched on a flowering branch]
in Sapsucker Woods I was hearing my first orioles of the year. Spring seems to come, a lot of people were telling me how late spring is, and how depressing it was here. Except I came here from Duluth, Minnesota
where spring is way behind here. And we won’t be hearing our first orioles for another week. But it was very thrilling. Orioles are such a cool bird
[Photo: Male Baltimore oriole singing]
and there’s a lot of cool behaviors we can watch at eye level. Like their feeding, especially if they come to our bird feeders. They love oranges this time of year, and they love grape jelly. They kind of lose interest in the oranges before they lose interest in jelly or sugar water.
But, and a lot of people get really excited when they see orioles bringing their babies to jelly. But that’s not always good. If the babies are coming more than once a day they’re probably getting carbs relative to the protein that they still need for their feathers. So that’s one a little while if you’re seeing babies coming in the same family more than once or twice a day.
But now you can start watching them picking up nesting materials
[Photo: Oriole on the ground with nesting material in its beak]
and doing all kinds of cool things down there. The, Marie was telling me that that orioles here like using goldenrod. The fibers that they can tear off of goldenrod, which I was trying to figure out why we call it goldenrod if they’re fibers are silver
but that’s okay. But I’m good at watching the orioles down at eye level but Marie could tell you how they get the pictures of the nests, which are not at eye level.
[Marie] So one of the most time intensive and elaborate projects
[Photo: Scaffolding tower near a tree]
I’ve ever undertaken was to photograph nesting Baltimore orioles. Now occasionally you’ll find their nests low down, but most they’re up in the trees, they’re high up there. So I needed to get up to their level. So I drafted that husband again, that amazing handyman husband, and to build a scaffolding tower for me.
So off we went down to the local lumberyard, we rented a big stack of scaffolding, and the guys behind the counter said, “Big home improvement project, huh?” And then we told them why we needed all scaffolding
and they said, “Like a bird’s nest? You’re paying all this money for a bird’s nest?” So I think they thought we were kind of nuts.
But anyway, to minimize disturbance to the orioles we built this scaffolding
[Photo: Marie holding a large camera near trees]
tower over, in stages, over a number of days. And we started toward the end of incubation, which is when the birds are very very much tied to their nest. And we put what up one one tier per day. And what we would do is we’d wait until the female left the nest to feed, which she did regularly throughout the day. And then we’d scramble in like crazy and try and build as much as possible before she came back again. And then we’d back off and watch and make sure she went into the nest safely again.
And within about a day of finishing that tower the young had hatched
[Photo: Male Baltimore oriole perched at the nest entrance]
fortunately I timed it really well. And the adults were bringing food for them. Now the young stay in that nest for about 14 days, so every day I clambered up on that tower with my gear and went to work. Mostly spending about three hours each morning or so, not all day long. [Audio cuts] now after about ten days I began to see signs of the nestlings moving around in the nest, and hear them begging.
[Photo: Baltimore oriole nestling stretching its wings]
There were actually four of them packed in there, and they were quickly outgrowing their space. And at first they’d just peek over the top and I could see their little bills and eyes. And then a few days later they started climbing up and sitting on the rim of the nest for a short while. And then they started flapping their wings at the top of the nest, exercising their wings as, in preparation for leaving.
So this little one looks like it’s actually going to take flight, but in fact it’s just exercising. Because orioles don’t generally fly away from the nest, like many songbirds,
[Photo: Baltimore oriole fledgling perched on a branch]
the songbird babies. They leave the nest when their wings and tail feathers are still quite short and they can only flutter short distances. But those legs and feet as you can see are very strong. And what they tend to do is clamber out and climb off up into the trees and off into the branches. And that’s where the parents will find them and continue feeding them.
And that’s what happened over the space of a couple of days. All four baby orioles emerged and made their way off up into the tree, into the wide world. And a couple of days later, a couple of weeks later of course they are adult size.
[Photo: Juvenile Baltimore orioles on a wooden post]
Photographer Richard Day’s photograph here.
[Audience] Do predators get them at that stage?
[Marie] I’m sorry?
[Audience] Do predators get them at that stage?
[Marie] Um, maybe. They certainly could, yeah.
[Laura] Most birds need lots and lots of protein that they get, animal protein, from insects
[Photo: American goldfinch perched on a branch]
or in you know spiders, and grubs, and all kinds of things. Goldfinches are one of the only vegans in the bird world, at least usually, but again we’re talking about functionally illiterate birds. I watched goldfinches plucking mayflies that were caught in the spiderweb once. So I know that they aren’t a hundred percent vegan. But they’re as close to vegan as we have, only eating plant material.
That helps them because if a cowbird happened to lay its egg in the nest of a goldfinch, the cow, well the baby goldfinches mostly will die too because the cowbird does get the lion’s share, but after only three or four days the poor cowbird doesn’t have enough protein ends up dying too.
But goldfinches have one other protection against cowbirds. They don’t start nesting until much later so they don’t get a cowbird egg in their nest very often anyway. But right now they are starting to be territorial.
[Photo: Goldfinch singing on a flowering branch]
Yesterday I was hearing one goldfinch singing his heart out right by the parking lot here. They get very very romantic as far as singing, and and maybe even a little bit of pairing off. But they don’t get really serious and actually start any kind of true mating behaviors until the flowers they need for constructing
[Photo: Goldfinch with nesting material in its beak perched on a flower]
their nest have gone to seed. They use these fibers as two different things. They’re building blocks, both to build their nest, and to build healthy baby goldfinch bodies. That’s one of the main things they feed the babies is regurgitated seeds. So they wait until, you know, I’ve seen nests
[Photo: Goldfinch nest with five eggs]
not start getting eggs until August in Duluth. And the nest is woven so tightly out of those fine little fibers that approve. Mother goldfinches stay on the nest much more tightly than most birds do. They often sit for 90 minute bouts with only, you know, they’ll sit and preen now you know get up and turn the eggs, but they will stay on the nest very loyally while the male brings food to the females.
Goldfinches go through a very weird thing compared to other songbirds. They molt all their body feathers twice a year. So they have a winter plumage and they have a summer plumage that is entirely . Cardinals get much more bright in the spring, but they molt it back in the fall, and the brownish tips, the dull colored tips of the feathers wear off, revealing the more bright red part by spring.
Goldfinches get all new feathers and that may be part of the reason that they delay nesting too is because it takes a while. Nobody knows why, if you look at baby goldfinches, you have fifty-fifty males and females in the nest. But if you look at adults there are eight males for every five females.
So their lives are much shorter and nobody knows why. But it’s a pretty sad but interesting thing.
[Photo: Female goldfinch sitting on the nest]
But the mothers sit tight, and the dad feeds her on the nest. And then both
[Photo: Goldfinch feeding nestling]
of them feed the babies. At first the dad keeps feeding the mother
[Photo: Female goldfinch perched on nest with young nestlings begging]
and she feeds the babies for the first few days. But these babies are still, you know, and she’s feeding them now. But the dad will start feeding them or will look bewildered at the camera. What am I supposed to do?
[Photo: Male goldfinch looking at the camera while perched above nest with nestlings]
[Photo: Two goldfinches perched on a sunflower]
they’re one of our unpredictable birds in the way the blue jays are. Goldfinches are eruptive, and you never know if you’re going to have a whole mess of them one winter, and not the next winter. They just come and go as they please. But they have a,
[Photo: Goldfinch perched on a plant with seeds]
they must have a harder life than we realize, especially the female. And nobody knows why they don’t live as long. And the last bird we’re going to talk about is the bird that was just
[Photo: Male northern cardinal perched on an evergreen branch in the snow]
singing up a storm yesterday when I was walking through Sapsucker Woods, cardinals. Cardinals have that rich, cheerful whistle
[Photo: Male cardinal singing]
which the males start in the wintertime. Females also sing, not to the extent that males do.
[Photo: Female cardinal]
One of the problems people have is cardinal,
[Photo: Male cardinal attacking window]
it’s mainly cardinals and robins, sometimes a grackle. I have a friend up by Duluth who has a parula warbler who does this. And they shadow box with their, their reflection. And people think, well they’re so stupid.
Magpies, they’ve done an experiment and showed that magpies understand mirrors. If they put, they’re black here, right. If they put a little bit of liquid paper here and show a magpie a mirror, the magpie will look, and then will suddenly start trying to scratch out that spot on itself. It’s looked in the reflection and knows there’s something weird on its feathers.
Cardinals do not understand mirrors. The male sings, and he knows it’s his territory if nobody else is singing right there. But sometimes then he’s flying by a window or sitting on a branch and suddenly looks and he sees a cardinal in the window. And if he gets aggressive and raises his crest, so does that robin. Every level of aggression that he shows in his posture that robin that robin or cardinal matches precisely.
And if he goes up and sings the cardinal doesn’t sing back, so he’s, I know this is my territory. And he goes back, and there that pesky bird is again. And he doesn’t know what to do. And he tries to drive it away. And he gets fixated on it. And the more he sings and is certain, no this land is my land, you know, that they. If they were to sing that cool song it would be this land is my land, this land is my land, this land’s not your land, this land is my land.
And it’s so frustrating, and people get so exasperated with it. And it could be a problem for us, but think about the problem it is for the bird. And the only thing we can do is break the reflection, which doesn’t have to involve breaking the window. It can be soaping it or putting paper on the outside, just long enough to get them focused on other things again. And feel satisfied that that cardinal has left his territory.
But it’s very frustrating.
[Photo: Male and female cardinal courting]
But, and females do it too. Because female robins and female cardinals are also territorial against other females. They don’t want their male to be dividing his attention and feeding other babies too. So they will drive away other females, and if they spot one in a window or a mirror they’re going to try and drive it away too. But once they have everything settled down they do all their normal things to raise their little babies.
[Photo: Cardinal nest with three eggs]
And they’re often at our eye level when they nest, or pretty low
[Photo: Male cardinal feeding female cardinal while she sits on the nest]
in, they like nice dense tangles. And so their nests can be tricky to see. And their little mouths
[Photo: Four baby cardinals in a nest with beaks open]
are so cool. They, baby birds have this capacious mouth to be shoving food into. And if you look carefully you can see the flanges within the mouth all point down so once way down it can’t come back up again. So it’s all to help and make things efficient. Their little tongue is shaped like a little tiny arrow, and it’s on a stalk at the bottom of the arrow. And the tongue’s job is to help force things down the throat too.
And birds have to keep their nests clean. And baby birds the, baby herons, and adult herons, just poop on the floor. And they don’t even think about, the her—the adult herons are very careful not to ever make any kind of mess on the eggs or the chicks, but otherwise it’s probably working kind of like glue on those little twigs on the floor. And it’s highly acidic, and it may help to control some bacteria and stuff.
But song birds tend to always poop the moment after they swallow. Because the moment after they swallow the parent who fed them is still there. And they make their poop in a sac with a thick sturdy membrane, and so it’s like a diaper. The parents can carry it off. And that’s what this cardinal is doing.
[Photo: Male cardinal picking up a fecal sac at the nest]
They feed and then they carry off the mess. Isn’t that a handy way to keeping a nest clean? Some birds, after a few, or after a week or so will, the adults will stop cleaning up, and it will kind of build up along the edges of the nest. The babies still back off when they do it.
And it’s funny, if you’re ever looking at video of baby birds, because when they poop they really shake their tails a whole lot first, and that’s probably to get the parents keyed in so that they know this is the one you know, this is your job next.
But the parents raise them and the whole point
[Photo: Female cardinal feeding nestlings]
is to raise baby birds that
[Photo: Fledgling cardinal]
don’t have the lipstick like the female, so you can tell that they’re young even when they’re pretty much full grown.
[Photo: Male cardinal feeding one fledgling with another also perched on the same branch]
And they’re so adorable. And that’s the whole point,
[Photo: Young cardinal standing on grass]
and the only thing almost as adorable as baby birds is my puppy.
[Photo: Puppy with binoculars and a hat]
So we can answer questions. Yes?
[Audience] I’m just wondering why some birds will allow you to watch them very closely and others get skittish? You know, for example I was watching in Florida, the anhinga birds and you could get up to them, fairly, you know, I would say fairly close, and take a picture of them. They were doing what they were doing.
[Marie] So the, the question is why are there some birds that allow you to get close to them when others might not? And my take on that is, as a photographer, the birds that are very used to seeing people, like those that live near us, near humans, that where they live in parks, where they live in places where there are fishermen around all the time. Those are the ones that are going to let you get close.
There are going to be song birds in a park, you know robins or mockingbirds, so used to seeing people that they’re not going to mind even going into the nest when you’re standing nearby. Because people do that all the time. So I think it’s an individual bird’s, I think if you, for instance, if you try and photograph the ducks. I’m going to head to a place where ducks are used to seeing people, because elsewhere they’re hunted, and they’re just going to fly away as soon as they see me. So that’s, I think that’s what you’re seeing is individual depending on where they live.
[Laura] Yes, some species are more skittish than others their natural predators are, and the ways they defend their young. But one of the pictures in the book is of a yellow warbler sitting on her nest. I took that picture and the yellow warbler was closer than you are to me in the front row.
And the way I took the picture was a little kid, a two little children found the nest, it was right on the edge of the boardwalk marsh where the, there are, like when you are there during spring migration people are packed as close as we are in this room all along the boardwalk. And so she was so used to people going by that she didn’t care that I took her picture, and that the kids were watching her.
[Laura] She asked what birds besides the great blue herons do with the hatched shell. Again that depends on the species. Some birds have critical depletions of calcium after they produce the eggs, and some of them will actually eat the shells.
Very often they fly and drop them elsewhere. They don’t want to have too many signs, that’s why they carry off the poop that their babies produce, too, the fecal sacs, is that they don’t want there to be a whole lot of evidence that there’s a nest right there.
But again that’s why we, this book was fun to do where we could pick a bunch of species because every species has its own unique strategies for solving the basic questions of life.
[Audience] What is the adaptive or solution-oriented strategy of when male mallards get really nasty and do nasty things?
[Laura] He wants to know what the advantages of male mallard so aggressive and nasty? It may have to do with that there are more males than females in mallard populations. And it may be that the guys who can’t get a mate using the normal courtship techniques can at least have one or two eggs in different nests.
Females physiologically and morphologically have actual body strategies for fighting off unwanted sperm in their bodies, but it’s not a hundred percent effective. And nobody knows. Do you have anything because? You?
[Audience] Question from the online audience asking about the heron nest, and what do you think, where do you think the dad heron is now? Since he’s been rather territorial.
[Laura] We have an online question asking where we think the dad heron now. He hangs around a lot at the pond. I got to see him yesterday just sitting in one of the trees that he used to perch in back in 2009 when I was watching him.
We don’t know if he’s nesting, and if he is we don’t know where he’s nesting. Both the parents spent a lot of time away from the nest when the other one was incubating. And they could have a low nest somewhere hidden that nobody’s found yet, or they could have joined, he could be nesting in a nearby heron colony, though the nearest one is still several miles away.
But that’s fine commuting distance for a heron. But, so we don’t know. And it’s one of the cool mysteries that maybe some careful observers walking around Sapsucker Woods will figure out.
[Audience] What’s the life expectancy of a heron?
[Laura] Let me see, I’m trying to what. We don’t have a lot of records of longevity for great blue herons. They’re very difficult and Marie was telling me one of her friends who works at um
[Marie] Was the curator of birds at the Bronx Zoo. So this person was the curator of birds at the Bronx Zoo, and she said that that we know herons got a very strong neck, a very long neck, and a very sharp bill. She was telling me and my husband that among the zookeepers who look after birds, especially herons, the incidence of having one eye removed is very high if you look after herons. So you have to really watch that.
[Laura] So there are really, really compelling reasons why we don’t have long-term studies of
banded herons and compelling reasons why we didn’t try to band the nestlings here. But I’m pretty sure I’ve read that they’ve lived well into their 20s or 30. Um the bird banding lab has a website where you can look up the records for each species based on banded birds, the known age when they were banded and then the oldest one that they got a return on.
[Audience] 23 is the oldest one that we have a record for.
[Marie] Any other offers?
[Laura] Do I hear 25?
[Marie] Sold to the gentleman over there for 35!
[Audience] Tell me about great horned owl nests. I’ve heard they just kind of throw a bunch of sticks down and don’t get very fancy, but is that really true?
[Laura] Great horned owls, she wanted to know about great horned owl nests. They do not build a nest at all. Most owls are not capable of building a nest. They appropriate a nest that was already constructed, usually from like a red-tailed hawk around here. Or they can sometimes find, there was one nesting at I think it was Stewart Park back when I lived here, and the tree was rotted out in the middle and it had this narrow entrance, and they would go into that. They don’t build, they take over something else.
And you’ve been a wonderful audience. One last question?
[Audience] What is the, there must be a different amount of time for birds to, before the birds actually leave, but is there an average amount of time that they stay with their mothers?
[Laura] She wants to know what the average time is that birds stay with their parents, or their mothers, or their fathers in some cases. And totally, totally depends on the species. Cranes stay with their parents all summer autumn. They learn their migration route south from their parents. They stay with their parents all winter and learn their feeding strategies in a new habitat.
And then right around anniversary time the parents are starting to get antsy and wanting some alone time finally, and so they fly off without the babies. And the babies have to find other young cranes to hang out with.
Swallows, some species of swallows, I’m pretty sure barn swallows the parents through migration. And some birds, baby chickadees leave the parents usually in August, beginning of August, and they each join a separate winter flock from their and they don’t look back.
Some parents, hummingbirds and loons leave the babies while the babies, hummingbirds the babies can feed on their own, loons it’s before the babies can fly. And the babies are stuck in the lake, and the parents don’t want to be contributing to any fish depletions while the babies can’t even get off the lake, so the adults leave when the young can catch their own fish, and they won’t be competing for food that way. So it totally the constraints of their lifetime. That’s what’s so cool about birds, every one is different.
[Miyoko] Thanks everyone for coming. Please stay and purchase the book or talk to the authors if you wish. Have a great evening.
[Laura] I didn’t bring my puppy for a very good reason.
[Laughter]End of transcript
Author Laura Erickson, and wildlife photographer Marie Read talk about their new book, Into the Nest: Intimate Views of the Courting, Parenting, and Family Lives of Familiar Birds, that documents every stage in the family lives of birds. Their book offers rare glimpses into birds’ daily lives during the breeding season; from dramatic courtship to nest construction, egg-laying, and first attempts at flight by the young.