Saturday, June 12, 2010


My yard is full of fledglings; young birds that have recently left the nest. Parents bring them here, where the livin' is easy. I like to think I give them a head-start into the real world. Birds don't have it easy these days.

Five or six black-backed Lessar Goldfinch are also visiting again. I swear they remind me of sleek seals; so dark on top and bright yellow below...with a bit of white on their wings.

Stunning little birds; nearly half an inch smaller than American Goldfinches and about half the weight. I love it when they visit. Most of the shots here are from Wikipedia or BirdFreak's site, but my favorite is from this blog. It's amazing what one finds just Googling a bird!

Or click here to get to the specific page where I found the photo.

You can see that it is really quite easy to tell an American Goldfinch from a Lesser Goldfinch (be they green- or black-backed) long as you are discussing males. Females...not so easy; at least for me.

This is a female American Goldfinch, according to the photographer. In my mind it could be a young male or non-breeding American Goldfinch, or a female Lesser Goldfinch. I still do not have the eyes to see; apparently one has more yellow at certain times of the year...but who and when?
I have much to learn!

Now that natural food (bugs) are more plentiful, I've cut back a bit on the number of feeders I keep full. Thank the gods that the grackles, black-birds and cow-birds are here in greatly reduced numbers, too; partly because the feeders I've left up are difficult for them to feed from and some contain only safflower seed. All the grosbeaks love safflower seed, and some of the other birds too...but not the Icterids so much.

I still put out peanuts for the jays and magpies...which draw the blasted black birds back in. Ugh! Anyway, it is hilarious to watch a young magpie discover peanuts-in-the-shell. As you know, young birds are nearly full-grown when they fledge...but regardless of their size, they are babies. So, these big lunkers land on the feeder and pick through the peanuts...all the while squacking and whining for their parents. They flap their wings and assume that begging position, as if to say "I can't open do ya open 'em; show me how to open 'em!" Too funny.

And grapes. I put out bunches of old grapes I get (discounted) and have discovered American Robins will actually come to feeders for them. That's a first, to see a robin at the feeders. They sure do like grapes, but they are most unhappy that the magpies come, too. I regularly watch one or two robins mix it up with a magpie; harassing and dive-bombing them; finally driving them out of the yard while they fly behind in hot pursuit. This morning, I realized why; there are several full-grown, but spotted and streaky young robins hunting on the grass. Now that the grapes are gone (for now), mom is teaching them the grape jelly is pretty good, too. Who knew?

In the early evenings I see swallows and Common Nighthawks. I really cannot identify the high and fast as they fly, all I know is that they are swallows. What I did identify though...and all by myself (!) were several Common Nighthawks.

They fly like big, clumsy bats; probably why they are called Bull Bats, but the identifying marks are the white patches just below the 'wrist'. This patch is nowhere near the wing-tips as in a Lesser Nighthawk...which don't frequent this area, anyway. As thrilled as I was to ID a bird was an easy mark. I love both of these beautiful paintings of this bird. How many can you find in the one on the left? The Fuertes portrait shows how these birds are expertly camouflaged, while the one by Hines shows how wide a mouth these birds sport. I used to see them all the time on the dirt roads up by the cabin where I lived here in Huerfano County; lying on the roads there is a bad habit they have...if I do say so myself.

Today I have been watching lots of fledglings. Young robins have blotchy, streaky bodies and look pretty much like a whole different with a 'tortishell tummy'.

There are a very many House Sparrows youngsters...birds which generally I don't see many of in my yard. But right now they all have so many mouths to feed...they bring them here. For all their evil ways, they are good parents...which is perhaps why they are so successful an invader.

Also exhibiting good parenting skills are House Finches...who have to put up with the most insistent, badgering youngsters I've ever seen. These babies don't just sit and wait, they chase and harass their parents non-stop. At least the males are right in there with the domestic duties. These three mouths belong to young blue birds, also excellent parents.

One way to tell that a bird is young is by the shorter tail, though it does grow in quite fast. Another is by the downy feathers that seem to stick out here and there, not unlike the cow-lick on a young boy. The surest way, for me, is to look at their mouths. When very young, the inside of a bird's mouth, or gape, is quite bright; yellow or even easy mark for the parent often feeding young in a darken place. The wider a mouth opens, the more likely it is to be filled. In a young bird the upper and lower mandibles are thick and somewhat fleshy looking; like lips. As the bird ages, even by the time it leaves the nest and becomes a 'brancher' (hoping about the branches of the nest-tree for a few days before it flies), this changes as the bill hardens. This illustration from the Illinois Raptor Center shows this well:

This is a nestling and...

this is a brancher.

By the time the bird fully fledges and leaves its parents for good...its bill will look like that of an adult. You can still see the short tail and youthful bill of these young magpies.

Generally, I don't recognize first year birds...if they are much different than their adults; and many are. I just assume I'm looking at a 'different' bird. Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers are an exception...well, at least the males are. The red on their heads begins forward, and gradually 'moves' to the back of the head. They are adorable, especially when still a bit fluffy from the nest. I've never seen a parent feeding a youngster at my feeders.

What I imagine are very young White-breasted Nuthatches are those with ill-marked coloring. Not unlike a young White-crowned Sparrow whose head goes through a blurry, 'checkered' look before exhibiting that beautiful, clear black and white; I think the striking white head and wide black head-strip from bill to nape on a young bird is also a bit 'blurry' compared to the crisp lines of adults. They hunt along the fences, the stakes keeping my dog out of my young shrubs and also come to the feeders. However, just like a youngster might, they are hesitant and timid. They look around before they begin picking at seeds. Parents always seem to be on a mission; in and out...quickly.

Early last April, a lovely biologist/birder/
environmentalist/teacher from the La Junta area, Duane Nelson was at my home to see Rosy-Finches. Oddly, while here he ran into two other biologist/birder/guides; Tammy and Ira from the Denver area. They are friends of his. Ira is the one who pointed out the first yellow-shafted Northern Flicker I ever saw...right here in my yard; it's a small world. Already feeling tickled pink to have met three more fascinating and knowledgeable people right in my own home, Duane pointed out another first...the Red-breasted Nuthatch. He said he imagines I've always had them. I imagine I might have seen them and dismissed them as badly-viewed Mountain Chickadees. Here are two pictures that compare these birds. Oddly, I only saw them another day or so and certainly have not yet seen any youngsters. But then I haven't seen any chickadees of late except one...badly seen, just the other day. Might it have been one of the Red-breasted Nuthatches?

Speaking of fledglings. Many of us have come upon young birds that sort of 'freeze' when we come close. Some folks think that means they are tame, or perhaps injured...but it does not. Still birds attract little attention. Cats however, skulking along low on the ground, find them easily. As much as I like cats, I look forward to the day with they must be kept inside or in 'cat-runs'...or on leash. There are so many loose and feral cats that they are seriously decimating our song bird populations. And those populations are already under siege from fractured habitat, wall-to-wall lawns, poisons and climate change. A single hunting cat may only catch a few dozen birds and mice (also removing bird and other creature's food suply) over a year's time...but multiply that by the thousands upon thousands of cats that hunt and you must realize cats are responsible for as many as a million birds per year. It's astounding.

Fledgling birds are ideal prey
for many small predators, including cats.
In this case, prompt demise of the bird
was only prevented by the fact
that the cat was held back on a leash.


Beyond The Garden said...

I love the sound of night hawks calling above in the dark. And that baby bird photo is crying out to be made into a greeting card. Hmmm... What could those birds be saying?

Anonymous said...

Hi Beverly,

I've just taken on two Breeding Bird Atlas blocks in the La Veta area -- one contains most of the town plus areas north and west, and the other is east of there. Could I come by one day soon and show you my maps -- maybe you could help me figure out land ownership. I don't know if your yard is in the La Veta block or not (looking at your blog with all the entries about young birds, I hope so!!). email at

Margie Joy

Mary Howell Cromer said...

Wow all such fun to view and learn from, very nice entry! Have a great weekend~