For the Birds: The tricky nesting season

Here is the latest For the Birds column, which runs in several New England newspapers.

Yellow-bellied sapsucker cleans out its nest.

Yellow-bellied sapsucker cleans out its nest.

The nesting season can be tricky for birdwatchers.

Just when you are sure certain birds are nesting on your property, something happens that makes you question whether it’s true.

You would think a bird going in and out of a birdhouse would leave no doubt that the bird is, indeed, nesting there. But that’s not always the case. In fact, it’s often not the case.

I have four birdhouses strategically placed throughout my property and not a single one is occupied. I’ve seen black-capped chickadees go in and out of two of them on different occasions this spring. Yet, as I continue to monitor those houses, I see no activity.

I likely caught the birds checking out the houses and, apparently, they didn’t like something. Whether it was the location in the yard, the dimensions of the house, or they just didn’t like the vibe, they moved on and hopefully found a suitable place elsewhere.

At least the chickadees checked out the houses and moved on. Wrens will continue to tease homeowners into thinking they are nesting in the house. Of course, teasing the homeowner is not their intent, but rather tricking predators and offering more options to their mate.

They do this by making several nests. Just because a house wren carries sticks and straw into a birdhouse, that doesn’t mean it will actually nest there. I’ve been fooled by that a few times in my birdwatching years.

The trickery and false hope is not limited to birdhouses. I watched a pair of great-crested flycatchers carry nesting material into a hole in a large branch next to my roof and I was certain I would eventually have fledglings to watch.

That day was the last time I saw them around that branch. I kept seeing them and hearing them (they are very vocal birds) in the yard, but never around that branch. They must have found a better place nearby, which is fine with me, as long as they are nesting somewhere.

By the middle of June, the vast majority of birds that are migrating through an area are gone. The ones remaining are either nesting or not going to nest this season. So, if you see birds at your feeder this time of year — assuming you still feed birds in the summer — there is a good chance they are nesting nearby.

In the last week, I’ve seen both a male and female rose-breasted grosbeak at the feeder. Their visits are very infrequent, but give me hope that they are a couple with a nest nearby. Maybe a juvenile grosbeak will show up in the next few weeks. That would be cool.

I’ve also heard a male scarlet tanager singing from the treetops in the evening. I haven’t seen a female tanager at any point, but the thought of a tanager couple raising a couple nearby is pretty exciting.

We are deep into the nesting season now. Keep your eyes open for signs of youngsters and let me know what you’re seeing out there.

2 thoughts on “For the Birds: The tricky nesting season

  1. I live on Robbins Road in Keene, NH. I feed the birds all summer and so far I have seen baby blue jays, and baby downy woodpeckers. I have 3 birdhouses, but only one is occupied with a family of wrens.


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