Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Bird Wars of Spring

"I'm gonna rearrange your spots for ya!"
How glorious are the sights and sounds of spring. The trees have their new leaves; there are flowers everywhere; the birds are pleasantly singing; the birds are all beating the heck out of each other…What!!
It’s true; I saw at least a half dozen fights going on at the Nature Preserve yesterday morning. Wood Thrushes seemed to be the biggest hooligans. Several pairs of them were seen engaged in high speed chases through the forest understory –smashing through foliage and even rumbling on the ground. Instead of issuing their famously sweet songs, rapid volleys of sharp alarm calls came from these frenzied contenders.
" Oh yeah, how would you like to bring those fancy feathers of yours home in a bag!"
Ovenbirds were also having it out. A group of 3 males even brought their dispute outside. That is –outside of their woodland habitat and into a nearby pasture. Baltimore Orioles fought on high –their loud chattering warning calls emanated from the tree tops as the bright orange males muscled in on each other’s territories.  They too were giving chase, and even occasionally tumbling down through the branches and nearly to the ground. All this strife is a result of the various birds vying for the choice territories and for mates.
The Eastern Kingbird

The next bird altercation was an unusual one that involved an Orchard Oriole and a pair of Kingbirds. A male Orchard Oriole seemed intent on visiting the crown of a pond-side Maple Tree that a pair of Kingbirds was defending. The notoriously tenacious Kingbirds didn’t appear to be nesting yet, but this particular tree was where they had nested in previous seasons. The determined Oriole was chased off by the Kingbirds, but a minute later he returned to a different part of the tree’s crown. This wasn’t going over very well with the Kingbirds, and they let the Oriole know by taking turns diving at him. Driven off to the trees on the opposite side of the beaver pond, the Orchard Oriole finally seemed to be giving up, but as soon as the Kingbirds left, he returned to the contested territory and began singing again. This time the Kingbirds didn’t bother with him. Perhaps they thought their point had been made.
A first year male Orchard Oriole at his nest site

The Kingbird drives off a Turkey Vulture

Orioles and several other songbird species often build their own nests in close proximity to Kingbird nests. The Kingbird’s rigorous defense of the nest tree offers some degree of security to the other birds nesting in the same tree. A few years ago we had Kingbirds nesting in a Black Willow Tree at the Preserve. 3 other bird species located their own nests in the branches near their nest. I watched the Kingbirds chase away many different predators and even a few only “perceived” predators. They rather hilariously chased off a huge Turkey Vulture, even though the vulture represented zero threat to anyone’s nest.
Despite their feistiness, that particular Kingbird nest was ultimately plundered by a Red Squirrel. I saw them drive the squirrel off on a few occasions, but evidently, it kept coming back, and finally prevailed. The nearby Orchard Oriole nest met with the same fate. In fact, of the 4 nests in that willow tree, only a Baltimore Oriole nest succeeded in fledging young that year.

"Can't we all just get along"
On my way out of the Preserve on the day of the bird wars, I saw a woodchuck peacefully chewing on some dandelions in the middle of the trail up ahead of me. When he saw me, he ran off into the brambles. Next, I heard a loud altercation. I thought that maybe a fox had nabbed the woodchuck, but that wasn’t the case; the woodchuck came running back and zoomed across the trail right in front of me. There was another woodchuck in hot pursuit. They chased each other into the brush where they scuffled again.

Yellow Ladyslipper

Flowers currently blooming at the Preserve include May Apple, Yellow Ladyslipper (Orchid), Red Columbine, Woodland Phlox and Indian Cucumber Root. At least none of these “critters” were beating on each other today.
Red Columbine

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