For the Birds: Wrens, bobolinks and cranes (yes, cranes)

Photo by Chris Bosak – Bobolink in New England field.

House wrens and American goldfinches have been my main source of avian entertainment this past week.

Both of these birds nest, on average, later than most other songbirds. While birds such as phoebes and robins get started in March or April, house wrens and goldfinches start in late spring/early summer. I hear the disjointed, but still rather cheerful, song of the house wren every time I walk out my door. The goldfinches are more quiet, but highly visible in their bright yellow plumage going back and forth to the nest site.

Goldfinches feed their babies a vegetarian/seed diet so the early insect hatch that prompts so many other songbirds to nest is of no practical to goldfinches. Rather, they must wait until flowers to bloom and go to seed before raising their young. Their primary diet consists of milkweed, thistle and other “weeds.”

House wrens start earlier but continue with additional broods deep into summer, even into August. My resident house wrens are still busy feeding young and being territorial, which has become expected of these lively birds. House wrens will often build dummy nests to fool potential predators. Years ago, the first time I had put a bird house, I was excited because a house wren was filling the house with sticks. I couldn’t wait to watch the whole process and see the babies fledge. A week later, all activity ceased, and I was left with a bird house full of small sticks.

Most other birds have finished their nesting and are either raising youngsters or starting to think about migration already. At least we have the goldfinches and house wrens to keep us entertained for a few more weeks.

Speaking of nest times, I received an important question from Sandy, who has a large field in Greenland (New Hampshire, not the huge island in North America.) She was thinking of mowing the field to control the invasive plants, but she worried about the bobolinks. When is a good time to mow large fields that have breeding bobolinks?

A rule of thumb is the Fourth of July, but a few weeks beyond that is even better. It can be inconvenient and even costly to wait that long, but mowing the field earlier may destroy bobolink eggs or babies. Bobolinks are handsome grassland birds that need large fields to nest. They build their nests on the ground amidst the tall grasses. They are also rapidly declining because large fields are often the future sites of condos or strip malls.

The Bobolink Project is an organization that helps protect these birds. It offers compensation to farmers and other field owners who wait until later in the summer to cut their fields. More information may be found at

Mary Anne wrote in a few times to keep me updated on the eastern phoebes nesting at her house. She watched the busy parents feed the growing youngsters every 10 seconds. One day, the young birds fledged, and the nest was empty. It’s always nice to hear success stories like that.

One last baby bird story … Kevin wrote in to say he saw and photographed a sandhill crane family in Plainfield, Massachusetts. I never doubted Kevin’s account, but I did have to research whether sandhill cranes nested in New England. I have never seen nor heard of these large birds nesting in our area. Sure enough, sandhill cranes are increasing in the Northeast and there are a few nesting spots in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts. Kevin sent in a few photos, which may be found on my website under the “reader submitted photos” tab.

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