Saturday, June 30, 2012

Birds that Nest in Man-made Structures


Of all the birdhouses I've seen, this is my favorite -  made entirely out of Birch. Seen at Khlem Arboretum, Rockford, IL; 5/7/2011.
You've heard of a pet door? A curious Tree Swallow checks out what all the commotion is about, Colored Sands Forest Preserve, IL; 6/2/2012.
Most birds will build their own nests (see yesterday's post); however, there are some who just like the convenience of moving into a ready-made structure. Bluebirds and House Wrens especially are species that typically will nest in man-made boxes. Another bird that comes to mind are Tree Swallows who love to occupy these birdhouses that were intended for Bluebirds (Above). Purple Martins almost exclusively nest in bird houses made especially for them (Below). One of the hazards of building boxes in hopes of attracting Bluebirds, Wrens, Swallows or Martins, is that they do not automatically attract these species first. Less desireable species such as House Sparrows or European Starlings often take over these types of houses. In fact, House Sparrows will nest anywhere and in anything. I've heard of sparrows nesting in old shoes, wheel wells of cars, clothes pins bags hanging on a clothes line, and even one inside a garage on top of the garage door opener. Someone must have let their garage open long enough for a sparrow to put a nest on top and lay eggs. Anything that is convenient and left lying for any length of time is a potential nesting place for a House Sparrow.
"It Takes a Village." Purple Martins enjoy the condo living style in these man-made houses, Horicon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, WI; 5/29/2011.
"Those dang Bumpesses!" Mr. and Mrs. Martin sitting on their front deck with a look of disapproval at their unruly neighbors, Horicon Marsh NWR; 5/29/2011.
"Don't mind me. I live here." A Tree Swallow staking its claim on a Bluebird house, Horicon Marsh NWR; 5/29/2011.
The Tree Swallow (Above) checks to make sure all is okay before entering its abode. Other Swallows [Barn, Northern Rough-winged (Below), and Cliff] like to use bridges, porches and other underhangs that are safe from inclement weather to buld their nests. Then there are Chimney Swifts, which not only like to roost in the chimneys on man-made buildings, but are even named from their behavior. My question is, what were they named before chimneys existed in their habitat?
A dream home? or a pipe dream? This Northern Rough-winged Swallow found a home in a drainage pipe off the Pierce Lake Dam in Rock Cut State Park, Rockford, IL; 5/8/2011.
"A Room with a View." A typical box built for Wood Ducks, Horicon Marsh NWR; 10/16/2010.
Another type of man-made box built for birds are specifically built for waterfowl such as Wood Ducks (Above). However, once again, this doesn't assure that only Wood Ducks will use these structures. The Mallard (Below) sure looks like he's found a comfortable home...
"There's a great view from the upper deck." This Mallard sure looks like he's claimed this Wood Duck box. The Green Heron in the Upper Left corner seems to be green with jealousy. Rock Cut State Park, IL; 5/17/2009.
"Using the Widow's Walk to wait for the Terns out at sea to come home." Horicon Marsh NWR, WI; 5/29/2011.
Even though the Forster's Terns (Above) seem to be attached to the nesting box, it is more likely that they are using it for a perch to scope out prey in the water. Their nests usually are on the ground in the sand or dirt or on a floating raft of reeds.

This nesting box looks like a good candidate for a "fixer - upper" for some very handyman duck, Rock Cut State Park, IL; 3/27/2010.
"Spacious Living." This Osprey is looking over the edge of its large nest built atop of a man-made platform, Isla Contoy, Mexico; 12/21/2010.
Another type of structure specifically constructed for nesting purposes are the large platforms on top of a tall towers. These platform towers are built for and used by Ospreys (Above and Below).
"The loft in this unit is a plus." An example of an Osprey Tower. Photo credit: Brian Tague
These Osprey towers are being built in many natural areas where Ospreys breed or in places that are trying to attract breeding Ospreys. The Link (Below) is from Brian Tague's website which includes his photography mostly dealing New England landscapes and wildlife...

However, just because humans have built these Osprey towers doesn't mean only Ospreys will utilize them. Other species have also been using these towers: Canada Geese, Hawks, and Eagles. Also Osprey's nesting habits do not necessarily mean they will only use these towers. They are likely to build nests on aything that is tall and large enough to hold their huge nests which can weigh more than 250 lbs and measure almost 4' in diameter.
An Osprey nest with modern ameneties, near Cancun, Mexico; 12/20/2010.
While vacationing in Mexico in the winter of 2010, on our way out to Isla Mujeres, we boated past a utility tower that had a huge Osprey nest on top. In the photo (Above) you can see the head of the Osprey sitting in the nest.
It looks like there are eight units in this Apartment building for birds, Khlem Arboretum, Rockford, IL; 5/7/2011.
Like the Osprey Tower, the birdhouses (Above and Below) are bult on a post, and unlike the Osprey towers thay are much smaller in scale, but they offer the opportunity for more bird families.
This birdhouse is more like a quadplex, with four units,  Khlem Arboretum, Rockford, IL; 5/7/2011.
Mail Slots? This house is obviously not built for birds, unless it is for very skinny birds or it where they pick up their mail. Can you guess what it is used for? Khlem Arboretum, Rockford, IL; 5/7/2011.

Friday, June 29, 2012

The Nestbuilders

A Baltimore Oriole gathering material to build a nest, Rock Cut Sate Park, Rockford, IL; 5/5/2012.
May is the month where one can find birds picking, pulling and gathering all sorts of nesting materials to get ready to lay eggs and raise their newest family. Today I'll feature a few photos of such birds caught in the act of pulling fiber out of plants and branches, picking cotton out of milkweed, and scooping up twigs and blades of grass to add to their nests.
A female Baltimore Oriole looking proud of the job she has done constructing their unique hanging basket nest, Rock Cut State Park, Rockford, IL; 5/8/2011.
Baltimore Orioles especially look for long grasses and fiberous materials to build their unique hanging nests (Above and Below). The nest building is primarily the responsibility of the female Oriole. She looks for materials that must be strong enough to hold the weight of up to six eggs plus the bird lying on the eggs.  The female Oriole lays 3 to 6 pale blue eggs with dark marks. Incubation of the eggs last 12 to 14 days and the young birds will leave the nest in 12 to 14 days after hatching.
A close up of a different Oriole nest that I found just a few days ago in Black Hawk Springs Forest Preserve, Rockford,  IL; 6/26/2012.
A Blue-gray Gnatcatcher gathering nesting material, Nygren Wetlands, Rockton, IL; 5/12/2012.
Blue Gray Gnatcatchers (Above) will collect entirely different types of materials for their nests, which are quite small and shallow (Below) in the shape of a cup. These Gnatcatchers look for more cottony or fuzzy types of materials, such as from dandelions or thistles blossoms. In my research some experts use the term 'down' (reminiscent of goose down or duck down feathers) to describe the types of  materials that B-G Gnatcatchers like to use.
A Blue Gray Gnatcatcher finishing up its construction of its nest, Espenscheid Forest Preserve, Rockford, IL; 5/30/2012.
Their nests (Above) are usually saddled in between the fork of  two limbs, on a horizontal limb which serves as the foundation and an upright branch which becomes the side support.

One of my earlier photos: a female American Redstart weaving together her nest with spider silk, Rock Cut State Park, IL; 5/23/2010.
Another summer resident of Northern Illinois is the American Redstart. I was lucky to follow the flight path of a female Redstart at Rock Cut State Park as it flew from a stream into a nearby tree. After flitting around from branch to branch it eventually settled on its nest. Their nests have a similar cup-shape like the B-G Gnatcatchers, but are made with a tightly woven grasses, bark strips, hair, leaves, twigs, or mosses, which are glued together with spider silk. In the photo (Above) you can see that she has a firm grip of some spider silk in  her bill as she uses it to weave the nesting materials together.
A Field Sparrow gathering grasses for its nest, Black Hawk Springs Forest Preserve, Rockford, IL; 5/1/2011.
Like other avian species, it is the female Field Sparrow's duty to build the nest (Above), which is an open cup-shaped nest constructed almost exclusively of grasses and tend to be close to the ground on clumps at the base of shrubs.
More photos of birds gathering nesting materials below:
A House Wren with nesting materials in its bill, Colored Sands Forest Preserve, Shirland, IL; 5/12/2012.
A female Red-winged Blackbird getting ready to add to her nest, which could very well be for her 2nd brood of the season, Glacial Park, McHenry County, IL; 6/10/2012.
Red-winged Blackbirds are an early arrival to Northern Illinois, so they are already mating and nesting by mid April. It could be by early June, the R-W Blackbird (Above and Below) might already be starting a second nest for a second brood.
The same Red-winged Blackbird, Glacial Park, McHenry County, IL; 6/10/2012.
A Song Sparrow gathering grass stems for its nest, Black Hawk Springs Forest Preserve, Rockford, IL; 5/1/2011.

A White-breasted Nuthatch entring a tree cavity where it has likely built its nest, Rock Cut State Park, Rockford, IL; 5/22/2011.
White-breasted Nuthatches (Above) will build their nests in natural tree cavities such as abandoned woodpecker holes, or holes they excavate themselves. They will also use nest boxes as in the very cool documentary of a brood of nuthatches that I located on youtube (Click on the Link Below).
Another bird that uses a tree cavity to build its nest, a Mountain Bluebird, Rocky Mountain Nat. Park; 7/8/2010.

A Yellow Warbler gathering milkweed fuzz for its nest, Rock Cut State Park, Rockford, IL; 5/5/2012.
One of our early nest builders in Northern Illinois, an Eastern Phoebe with nesting grass in its bill, Rock Cut State Park; 4/23/2011
Trees along the Mississippi River that hold many nests of the Double-crested Cormorants, near Savannah, IL; 8/7/2011.
Two of Illinois' larger birds build very grand nests high up in trees. Both the Double-crested Cormorants (Above) and the Great Blue Herons (Below) build their nests in a community style (many together within the same tree or group of trees), made up largely of small dry branches. The nests average over a yard in diameter and have a central cavity almost a foot deep by two feet wide which is sometimes lined with twigs, moss, lichens, or conifer needles.

A dead tree bearing at least three nests of the Great Blue Heron, Phoenix, AZ; 12/26/2009.

Tomorrow I will feature birds which use man-made structures for its nesting abodes.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Dickcissals take over Northern Illinois in June 2012

A male Dickcissal, one of many that have saturated Northern Illinois grasslands; Glacial park, McHenry County, IL; 6/10/2012.
Before this year, I have not seen or heard many Dickcissals in our area. This could be that usually in June - as soon as the school year ends, I am taking off somewhere out of state on a month long vacation. However, this year I stayed put for the first half of June and was rewarded by all the Dickcissals (Above) that have arrived in our part of the State, with their catchy song - "dick-dick-cissal-cissal."
A female Dickcissal, North Branch NCA, McHenry County, IL; 6/10/2012.
In the first week of June, I visited the Colored Sands Forest Preserve, near Shirland, IL, and all along the roadways in that rural part of Northern Illinois, I heard the familiar Dickcissals singing. There were also plenty of them in the prairie near the bird-banding station, while I was searching for Henslow's Sparrows. The same day, there were many Dickcissals present at Nygren Wetlands (Bottom photo) as well. Then a week later, I made my first birding trip to McHenry County to check out a rare sighting of a Lark Bunting at the Nippersink North Branch Natural Area (Above & Below). While I was scoping out the Lark Bunting, there were Dickcissals and Meadowlarks surrounding the area. While I was in the neighborhood, I also checked out the highly recommended birding area of Glacial Park, near Richmond. There too were many Dickcissals (Top photo).
Another Dickcissal, North Branch Natural Area, McHenry County, IL; 6/10/2012.
A singing Dickcissal, Nygren Wetlands, Rockton, IL; 6/2/2012.
Dickcissals were also present at Deer Run, and Black Hawk Springs Forest Preserves near Rockford, IL.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Indigo Buntings - Early May in Northern Illinois

An Indigo Bunting mugging for the camera, Nygren Wetlands, Rockton, IL; 5/12/2012.
Indigo Buntings (Above) have been quite a presence this Spring in Northern Illinois. I always love finding one of these blue beauties because they always present a great contrast against the greens, yellows and browns of their habitat.
Indigo Bunting, Rock Cut State Park, IL; 5/20/2012.
Indigo Bunting, Mississippi Palisades State Park, IL; 5/28/2012.

Indigo Bunting, Rock Cut State Park, IL; 6/13/2012.
These Buntings are one of Northern Illinois' summer residents as they can be seen in our parks and forests from early May through September, when they migrate south to Mexico and to the very southern tip of Florida.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Warbling and Red Eyed Vireos in Northern Illinois

One of many Warbling Vireos making themselves known in the Rockford, IL. area this Spring; 5/5/2012.
Vireos are a weak species on my Life List, probably because it is a species that I am not totally confident with my ID skills - but not the Warbling Vireo (Above). These guys are easy to recognize with their rambling run-on song. Warbling Vireos arrived in Northern Illinois in early May, and it seems all of them stayed here as they seemed to be every place I have birded. In the Summer months, Warbling Vireos are common throughout much of the U.S. save the Southeast corner (Florida, Georgis, Alabama, and the Carolinas) and most of Texas and Louisiana. They will also stretch their Summer range well into most of Western Canada and along the Great Lakes. In the Winter you can find them in parts of Mexico and Central America.
A Red-eyed Vireo in its typical 'high in the upper branches' position, Rock Cut State Park; 5/12/2012.
Another Vireo that is common in our area is the Red-eyed Vireo (Above), which arrived in the Rockford area in Mid May. I have learned to recognize this vireo's song this Spring, a song which is a rather non-descript series of  three syllable phrases and not a strikingly catchy tune. But once I learned to recognize their song high in the upper branches of large trees, they became much easier to find. Before this, I always saw them high above me and almost always only saw their underbellies; therefore, it was hard to ID. But now that I know their song, I find them all the time.
A White-eyed Vireo in its usual spot in Espenscheid Forest Preserve for the past couple of years - but has been absent this year; 5/30/2011.
The only other Vireo that I have had luck with identification is the White-eyed Vireo, but I have yet to see or hear any this Spring / Summer. I've noted that other Norther Illinois birders have not been avidly reporting White-eyes either. Their song is more rythmic than the Red-eyes, and is easier for me to recognize.
There are five Vireos that call Northern Illinois their Summer home (and another two migrating through), and I have only 3 on my Life List. So one of my goals for this year and subsequent years is to do a better job at finding and recognizing Vireos.

Friday, June 22, 2012

More Flycatchers - Willow Flycatcher in Northern Illinois

A Willow Flycatcher, Glacial Park, McHenry Cnty, IL; 6/10/2012.
June should be named "The Month of the Flycatcher" in Northern Illinois, as I have seen and heard all seven Flycatcher species that reside in our area for the summer. All of my posts to this blog last weekend were devoted to Flycatchers. Flycatcher residents that I have seen/heard in the first two weeks of June are: Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Kingbird, Eastern Wood Pewee,  Least Flycatcher, Acadian Flycatcher, Great-crested Flycatcher, and Willow Flycatcher (Above). Of the three Flycatchers that have travel through our area to more northern homes, I have seen two of them: Olive-sided Flycatchers and Alder Flycatchers. The only Flycatcher species that I have been unable to locate is the Yellow-bellied Flycatcher.
The same Willow Flycatcher, Glacial park, IL; 6/10/2012.
Eastern Phoebes, Eastern Kingbirds and Great-crested Flycatchers are easily identified by their appearance. But all the others look very much alike and I have to rely on their sounds to be sure of my identification. Luckily each of them have their own unique song which are fairly easy to distinguish. Willow flycatchers (Above) have their unique song which is translated in bird guides and bird recordings as "fitzbew" or "ritzbew." In the Summer, these Flycatchers can be found from coast to coast in the northern half of the U.S. and will travel to Mexico and Central America to spend the Winter.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Great Crested Flycatcher - Late Migrant to Northern IL

A Great Crested Flycatcher doing its thing - catching flies, Rock Cut State Park, IL; 6-13-12.
Keeping with the weekend theme of Flycatchers, one of the later birds to migrate to Northern Illinois, is the Great Crested Flycatcher. These guys showed up in our parts in late May and by early June, I was finding them in many Northern Illinois natural areas - Black Hawk Springs Forest Preserve, Colored Sands FP, Rock Cut State Park, Morton Arboretum, Glacial Park, and Nygren wetlands. It is one those birds that I have learned to recognize its very vocal sounds this Spring, which ultimately makes me more aware of its existence.

The same Great Crested Flycatcher, Rock Cut State Park, IL; 6-13-12.
Great Crested Flycatchers (Above) is the largest of the Tyrant Flycatchers found in the Eastern half of the U.S., and is commonly found in mature deciduous trees. Its range stretches from the Atlantic Coast westward to the Great Plains of Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, East Texas, and the Dakotas. They can also be found in the Southern edges of Canada. For Winter, they will travel to Mexico and Central America.
Great Crested Flycatcher, Rock Cut State Park, IL; 6-13-12.
I followed the movements of this particular Great Crested (Above) for quite some time, as it would fly back and forth between 2-3 large Oak trees and then suddenly make a dive bomb to the ground (Below) going after some insects, and then return to its perch in one of the Oaks.
Great-crested Flycatcher, Rock Cut State Park, IL; 6-13-12.
Its combination of colors makes it one of our prettier Flycatchers with its olive back and crown, gray throat and breast, bright yellow belly, and rufous tail and wing edges.