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by Stan Tekiela
September 9, 2019
When you think about birds and nesting, you automatically think “spring”. But recently I was photographing a Ruby-throated Hummingbird nest in August and it made me think that, not all birds are nesting right away in spring. In fact, there are many species of birds that purposefully wait until summer to begin nesting. Or in some species they are nesting in summer because they are on their second or in some cases, third nesting of the year. Let’s look at some of these late nesters.
During spring, it seems like all the birds are in a mad dash to nest and have baby birds. The spring air is filled with beautiful bird songs. Birds are flying here and there gathering nesting materials and are hard at work building nests. But in summer the air is quiet, and the fever pitch of nesting is nowhere to be seen. But is it really?
Some species, such as the American Goldfinch and Cedar Waxwing, are birds who wait for the dog days of summer before nesting. The goldfinch often waits until the local thistle plants have finished flowering and have produced a large crop of seeds. Not only do they need the seeds for food, but each thistle seed has a thin soft white fiber attached to it, which the goldfinch uses to line their nest cavity. In fact, they use so much of the thistle down to line their nest, that the interior of the nest often appears white.
The American Goldfinch is a strict seed eater and only occasionally feeding on insects. Much of the goldfinch’s food source (plant seeds) begins to ripen in late summer. Late nesting helps them to have a consistent food source for all of their growing chicks.
Another classic late nesting bird is the Cedar Waxwing. This amazing, crested and masked bird is inextricably tied to a diet of fruits. This is called being frugivorous. Since the fruits that these birds depend upon are ripe and most abundant in late summer the waxwings hold off on nesting until August or even Sept. Some have nested as late as Oct in some parts of the country.
There is an interesting relationship between the Cedar Waxwings and the fruit trees. The birds are dependent upon the tree’s fruit production for their food. However, on the other side, the trees are dependent upon the birds to disperse their seeds far and wide. The birds swallow the berries whole, which contain the trees seeds. As the berry passes through the acid environment of the digestive system, the flesh is stripped away and the outer coat of the seeds (seed coat) becomes weakened or starts to open, which encourages the seed to germinate. This is called scarification. In fact, many berry seeds must pass through a bird’s digestive system in order to geminate and grow. Thus, these two very different species, bird and plant, depend upon each other for survival.
Some species of bird such as Eastern Bluebirds, Blue Jays or even Ruby-throated Hummingbirds also nest in summer. But the big difference is, these birds don’t wait until summer to breed like the others. For these birds it is their second or third nesting for the year. They first nest in spring and raise the first brood of baby birds. When summer rolls around they continue breeding and are on their second or third batch of babies.
That is the case for the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Hummingbirds only lay two eggs and have two babies. The mother sets up her own territory, separate from the male. Hummingbirds don’t form pair bonds between males and females. They lead separate lives. Only when the female has built her nest does she leave her territory and seeks out a male for breeding. She returns to her territory to lay eggs, incubate and raise the young.
Eastern Bluebirds often have two and sometimes three nesting attempts per summer. The more experienced pairs will split the nest duties after the first batch of babies are born. The male will protect and feed the young while the female starts to build another nest and begins to lay more eggs.
So even though it’s the dog days of summer, there is still a lot of nesting activity going on. You just need to get out and look for it. Until next time…
Stan Tekiela is an author / naturalist and wildlife photographer who travels the U.S. to study and capture images of wildlife. He can be followed on www.facebook.com and twitter.com. He can be contacted via his web page at www.naturesmart.com
The nationally syndicated NatureSmart Column appears in over 25 cities spanning 7 states: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania. It is a bi-weekly column circulated to over 750,000 readers.
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