I enjoy receiving questions and photos from the readers of this column. Two subjects dominate correspondence at this time of year: Where are the hummingbirds, and what might have caused a backyard nest to fail?
I think many observers get worried about hummingbird populations because they remember the nonstop activity of mid- and late summer from previous years. It is still way too early for that kind of action at the feeders yet. The birds are here, but they are in set territories and busy raising chicks by now.
Part of that process involves defending those territories from other hummingbirds. As any avid feeder watcher knows, hummingbirds are extremely bold and feisty when it comes to staking a claim, whether it is a piece of land or a feeder.
It is usually mid-July or later by the time the chicks fledge, territories are abandoned and the birds start moving around looking for food sources to facilitate weight gain for the coming migration. That’s when you can expect a big increase in the perceived number of hummingbirds in your area. Keep the feeders up; this happens every year.
Unfortunately, a very high percentage of songbird nests fail for one reason or another. Predators abound in the forest and urban areas. Rat snakes’ diets are made up largely of birds. The sudden disappearance of a nest full of unfledged young can often be attributed this predator, especially if the nest is in a box. Usually the nest will appear undisturbed. Raccoons, cats, chipmunks and other songbirds can be culprits, too.
House sparrows and native house wrens also will wreck a nest in a nest box and expel the young. Several readers have reported finding very young birds on the ground under a bird box. Competition for cavity nest sites is high and these aggressive species are at an advantage.
If you have lost a nest in a box and have seen it replaced by a twig nest, a house wren is likely responsible. An unorganized mass of dead grass, straw, and trash will indicate the house sparrow is the guilty party.
Taylor Piephoff is a local naturalist with an interest in the birds and wildlife of the southern Piedmont: PiephoffT@aol.com.
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