July is all about ... Babies!
"Any glimpse into the life of an animal quickens our own, and makes it so much the larger and better in every way." -John Muir
Never is Muir's observation more accurate than in those special moments when we are allowed into the family lives of our non-human neighbours. July is a month for new fledglings: open mouths waiting for food, frantic wing flaps to attract a meal-bearing parent's attention, gawky attempts at first flights, and practice calls as the language of a species is learned by a new generation. Endearing and vulnerable, juveniles of all sorts inspire hope, and a sense of protectiveness and awe in us. Knowing that pairs of birds and other animals have been able to breed and raise young, in spite of the odds against them, is cause for celebration every summer!
This year, the Baltimore Orioles were plentiful around the grape jelly/orange feeders. Three males brought their young to feast, and to forage in the shrubbery for crawly delicacies.
At first, the little ones were escorted to one of the large trees, where they hid among the leaves, and begged (with flapping wings) for food to be delivered.
Exhausting work, this waiting for snacks...
Within a day or two, the wee ones were encouraged to spend some time on the perches near the feeders. The Oriole feeder hangs on our clothesline, and I fastened some branches to the end of one pole. The birds seemed to like this natural landing spot, and even the adults would often sit there for a moment before flying down to the food.
This young Oriole is a bit more mature, and has more orange-yellow than fluffy white on the underside. (Likely a male too...)
Dad would park his kids on a branch, and bring mouthfuls of grape jelly for them.
"Hmm-m, wonder if I could hop down there and get some for myself?"
Other times, he would lead them to vegetation, and encourage them to scavenge on their own for "live" food.
During the hot, dry days of July, there were many birds around the bird baths. The young Orioles, experimenting with a new adventure, were so entertaining!
Dad kept bringing the babies treats, even when they were trying to bathe and drink.
Eventually he joined in the water fun, but might not have been too happy about having an audience...
On a few warm evenings in mid-July, babies of another sort lined the eaves of our house, waiting for food.
Young Barn Swallows sat with open mouths while their busy parents brought them insects caught on the fly.
Between feedings, they watched the sky carefully for the arrival of their parents.
Sometimes a little nap was in order.
When tummies were full, Mom and Dad would take a break for a few moments, and just sit quietly with their families. The Female Barn Swallow is usually whiter on the front than the male; he shows more orange. The male also has a longer tail than the female, although unless they are sitting side-by-side, it is tough to tell!
I'm guessing the one in the photo above, feeding the youngster, is a male, while these next two are likely females.
I think this is another Dad, resting with his little one.
In July, there were lots of second nestings of Eastern Bluebirds in boxes. This pair was one of many that would not feed nestlings if there was an audience. Many Bluebirds (and birds in general) are uncomfortable with humans watching them when they are feeding, and it is important to give them their space and privacy during nesting season.
Dad had found a nice big grasshopper on the road, and Mom had a berry, likely from the Red Osier Dogwood. As soon as I pulled away, both parents headed for the nest box with their treats. (The male is much duller now than he was in the Spring!)
There has been a pair of Brown Thrashers in the trees along our lane all summer, but I have not seen any sign of young. Last year they had at least one successful fledgling. So many obstacles to overcome to raise a family...
The Brown Thrashers love the bird bath,
and often dry off high in their favourite Tamarack tree.
They also do a great job of "thrashing" the mulch out of flower beds. The pine cone in front flew just before this shot was taken. I often knew the Brown Thrashers were present when I looked out the window and saw dirt and mulch being tossed around!
Common Yellowthroats were ... common this summer along the Lake Huron shoreline near MacGregor Point Provincial Park. It was wonderful to see them carrying treats to their well-hidden nesting sites. This female has a beakful of fish flies / mayflies (I think!).
In another spot, near some small bushes and vegetation, a male Common Yellowthroat was finding some nice juicy larvae and insects.
I only stayed for a few moments with these little Warblers. Like the Bluebird parents, this Yellowthroat was not going to feed while I was watching.
A juvenile European Starling rested in the late afternoon sun,
and in the same field, an Upland Sandpiper called. Here's hoping that these rare birds were able to add to their fragile population in one of the few grazing fields left in the area.
Two young Meadowlarks waited for food on a log away out in the middle of the same meadow. Wonderful to know that a few more of these beauties made it to the fledging stage. (Lots of cropping on this photo!)
What a smorgasbord of insects and berries there was to choose from in this good-sized pasture field!
In a nearby tree, a tousle-headed young Downy Woodpecker learned to hunt for food.
We haven't seen as many marsh birds this year as we did last year. There has not been enough rain to keep the swamplands wet.
I was pleased to see a juvenile Sora -- a new one for me! This little one was pulling at a stem of seedy grass.
It knew how to hunt for small insects and crustaceans along the water's edge, and seemed to be thriving.
Okay -- these might be my favourites! In MacGregor Point Provincial Park, a pair of young Pied-billed Grebettes stretched their wings, and dove for food. This family, like most Pied-billed Grebes, was elusive, and stayed out in the water at a distance. This photo has been cropped so that we can see the "pied bill" on the adult.
About a week later, the Grebes were foraging together in a spot near the edge of the pond when we visited. When the adult disappeared around a small island to deal with some Canada Geese that were getting a bit too close, the two juveniles proceeded to put on quite the show. Not sure Mom or Dad would have approved, but the Grebettes were trying out all sorts of newly learned skills, much to the delight of the humans!
Check out the beautiful new feathers that will soon be used to carry these babies as far south as Central America!
I'm not sure what some of these poses were about. Quite the little contortionists... They were not in the least stressed by our presence, and even seemed curious about us and the other humans who were stopping by to watch quietly.
Such pretty birds, learning to do all sorts of "Grebey" things in the safety of the park pond! Still sporting some of their baby stripes and fluffy feathers, and not yet ready for the "pied bills" that they will have next spring when they return.
No discussion of nesting would be complete without mentioning Brown-headed Cowbirds! These birds lay their eggs in the nests of other birds, leaving the parents of other species to raise their young. Many times, the young Cowbird outgrows its adopted siblings, to the detriment of the host family's young. This young Baltimore Oriole had some concerns about the parasitic habits of Brown-headed Cowbirds.
Oriole: "Mr. Cowbird, my mom and dad told me that your lady friend tried to lay some eggs in our nest. Would you care to explain?"
Cowbird: "I confess that I am a bit embarrassed by our actions, but ... that's just how we work. Sorry for any inconvenience caused."
As I walked along a dirt road lined with forest on each side, watching and listening for whatever might be around, a young Porcupine feasted on roadside salad, not worried in the least that I was walking by a few metres away.
What a privilege it is to share with little ones as they experience our world for the first time...
and what a responsibility it is, as stewards and caretakers, to do all we can to make this earth a safe, nurturing place for them!
*As always, photos were taken from a distance, and cropped if necessary, to ensure that nesting/fledging birds and their parents were not disturbed.
And someone asked about playback calls ... I choose never to use calls when photographing birds, for a variety of reasons, and am especially careful not to disrupt behaviours during nesting season. -Merri-Lee
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