The summer solstice occurs this evening at 7:09 P.M. (EDT). For birdwatchers like me, the thrill of discovering returning migrants has past. It is always a bittersweet event when I find a Blackpoll Warbler each spring, as this is one of the last neotropical migrants to pass through the northeast. To me they represent a bookend on the back side of another spring season. By the summer solstice most songbirds have already established territories, paired off, completed nest-building, brooded eggs, and tended to their hatchlings. The sounds of bird song in my yard are mostly limited to early mornings and early evenings. Busy parents prefer not to attract too much attention with their vulnerable young around.
So am I suggesting we settle into the summer doldrums? Not at all! There is another migration underway! It is the one where parents begin to coax their recently fledged progeny away from the nursery and into the bright sunlight of a new world. And my yard is a great place to explore and learn the lessons needed for survival. In the last week or so, I have enjoyed watching little fuzz balls making their way around the yard with their doting parents nearby. Mom and Dad are as much fun to watch as the kids. Nervous and alert, they seem ready to come to the rescue in an instant if anything goes awry. To date my “baby list” includes Blue Jay, American Robin, Northern Cardinal, Eastern Bluebird, Downy Woodpecker, and European Starling.
While the male’s territorial singing has abated, his song has been replaced by tiny, soft lisps and sisps: intergenerational communication. In fact the yard is full of thin call notes coming from the surrounding trees and shrubs. Normally, when I hear these sounds I look to the tree tops expecting to see Cedar Waxwings. This time of year I know better. A cacophony of sounds coming from brand new voice boxes can sound just like a flock of waxwings.
We have all seen images of nestlings with their gaping mouths ready to receive food from their parents. Many of the little guys and gals that are out and about in my yard try to signal hunger in the same manner. Hey, it worked in the nest two weeks ago, didn’t it? It is humorous to watch a youngster, now almost the size of the parent, throw its head back, open wide, tremble with anticipation, and cry plaintively.
Last year I watched a Downy Woodpecker pick peanuts out of a feeder filled with Aspen Song Nut & Fruit Woodpecker Mix, break them into small pieces and feed them to a youngster who was clinging to the feeder pole just below the seed. Now woodpeckers have a unique toe arrangement (zygodactyl is the fancy word) that allows them to cling to vertical surfaces. But this little guy was trying to use this new ability on a slippery pole. While Dad was up at the feeder getting the next morsel, Junior was slipping down, hitching back up, slipping down. Last evening we watched a male Northern Cardinal with two youngsters in tow, visiting a platform feeder filled with Aspen Song Cardinal Mix.
Keep those feeders filled. Get out in the yard and watch the fun! It’s recess time at Fledgling KinderCare!