The weekly report from the world’s birdwatching capital… by Seymore Thanu
First on the wing were early nesters like Downy Woodpecker, White-Breasted Nuthatch, Carolina Chickadee.
What gives these birds the edge? They all share the same nesting strategy.
Each of these species are cavity nesters. They nest early (in April) because snug in their wood-lined cavities they can beat winter’s lingering chill. Other early nesters include European Starling, House Sparrow, and House Finch.
You guessed it. Cavity nesters all.
But there are other species that keep early egg dates and open nests. Among them is American Robin. Heck, I had my first young robin this year on May 20. American Crow and Grackles also fledge young at about the time most other species are incubating eggs.
So why write this column now? Because now is when the vast majority of resident nesting birds are putting out their crop of young birds.
In the next few weeks visitors to Cape May will see growing numbers of Tree Swallows. The first brood will be on the wing by the first week in July. They flock to Cape May to take advantage of the abundant insects crowding our airspace.
Tens of thousands of swallows. Foraging by day. Gathering in communal roosts by night.
Out on the marshes, young Laughing Gulls will also be venturing out into the world. The loud “laughing” call of adults will be drowned out by the food-begging calls of young.
Young warblers, vireos, flycatchers and sparrows will also be leaving the nest. Getting used to the neighborhood. Ranging farther and farther from home as summer progresses.
Life doesn’t come with a blueprint; except that which is imprinted in their bird brains. There’s lots of trial and error; a steep learning curve. Many will fail to make the grade.
This means they die.
Well sure, you are thinking. Everybody knows that there is some mortality among young of any species.
Uh-huh. But with birds, nearly 90% don’t reach maturity. One of the big cuts in the ranks of young birds comes in the first couple of weeks out of the nest.
Birds have figured out how to compensate for this loss in one of two ways. Some species (including many shorebirds) produce few young per season but as adults live long lives. They breed many times over the course of many years. Other species crank out lots of young at a sitting and nest two, even three times a breeding season.
Eastern Bluebird and American Robin fall into this category. They don’t live as long as, say Black-bellied Plovers, but produce in their shorter lives comparable numbers of young.
What does this mean for humans? Nothing. You can be aware or not. Life goes on whether humans sanctify it with awareness.
But for those so attuned, during the next several weeks Cape May is going to be inundated with newly fledged young birds.
Kind of restores your faith, doesn’t it? Makes you think that maybe, despite all the challenges our species throws at nature, things will turn out okay in the end.
Now is the time to see all the new parents feeding their young, especially on one of the Cape May Bird Observatory’s weekly walks or boat trips.
The CMBO, THE place for anything to do with nature, offers activities daily. The CMBO (609-884-2736) is located at 701 East Lake Drive overlooking lovely Lake Lily in Cape May Point and is open 9:30am to 4:30pm every day. Ask any of our staff or volunteers – they are always glad to help with anything you need – even things you didn’t know you needed yet. While there, pick up our schedule of daily activities, check out the view of the lake from the wide selection of scopes and binoculars, or peruse the latest in books, bird feeders, and our great new merchandise – including the exclusive CMBO logo jewelry, clothing, totes, and more.
Take a look at the sightings log or our website to check what’s being seen, scan the bookshelves, pick up a bargain from the used and vintage books section, look at some of the wonderful Charley Harper merchandise, or just browse. And if you aren’t fortunate enough to be in the area, visit us online www.BirdCapeMay.org, where birding Cape May is only a click away.
Seymore Thanu is none other than New Jersey’s own Pete Dunne, Director of the Cape May Bird Observatory and Vice President of Natural History for New Jersey Audubon Society. Author of several books on and about nature (available at the Cape May Bird Observatory), he has written for virtually every birding publication and for The New York Times.