Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Bulletin #140 - local birds

David McDonald Photography
Friendswood Texas
June 22, 2011

With the summer doldrums upon us, I have to look for local birds of interest to photograph. Of course, this is nesting season, so common birds can provide some interesting opportunities.

The first photo is of a Northern Cardinal nest with eggs. As you know, cowbirds are parasitic. This means that they lay their eggs in nests of other birds and the foster parents raise the cowbird chicks, often losing their own young in the process. This nest has 3 different types of eggs in it.

At 12 o'clock is the large spotted cardinal egg. The 2 smaller, but similar eggs at 3 and 9 o'clock are from a Brown-headed Cowbird. The plain white one at 6 o'clock is that of a Bronzed Cowbird. I rarely get to see birds nests with eggs, but this is a first for me to have 3 different species of birds eggs in a single nest.

This next photo is of a bird house outside our kitchen window. I bought this bird house about 14 years ago. It is made of resin to resemble an old straw hat. In all this time, we have never had any occupants until this year, when Carolina Wrens took up residence. They nest on our patio in hanging baskets etc anyway, so I didn't pay much attention to them until I heard some babies chirping and discovered that they were in the bird house. On Memorial Day weekend, I took a few photos out the window. I wanted to get more photos, but they fledged and were gone several days later. Here is a baby waiting at the entrance for food.

I am fortunate to have a large yard with many trees. Thus, I have the pleasure of having a family of Red-shouldered Hawks that spend a lot of time in my yard. They don't bother the small birds and seem to eat mostly lizards, crawfish etc on the ground. We are in the midst of the worst drought in the 34 years I have lived in Houston. Normally, we have 1" rain per week all year, but with La Nina in the Pacific, we have not had any rain since January, and are about 20" below normal for the year.

My bird bath with a drip is used constantly by birds and squirrels. Several weeks ago, I looked out to see the juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk in the bird bath. He really enjoyed himself and splashed around. I took these photos through the kitchen window.

Next to my amazement, an adult flew down and joined him in the bird bath. In the second photo, it looks like the parent is whispering in his ear or giving him a kiss.

Since then, I have seen the juvenile most days go to the bird bath, but I haven't seen and adult return for a drink.
The juvenile is quite tame and I can approach him to within 20 feet. The adult flies off when I'm 50 feet away. I was able to get a close up of the juvie on a branch over the bird bath on a day when it was 105 degrees and he had his mouth open like a panting dog. Notice the ridges on the palate inside to mouth!
Two years ago, we had another milder drought and the local ponds, ditches etc were dried up. I had Yellow-crowned Night-Herons walking around my yard looking for food. So I thought to but some live crawfish and put them out to see if I could feed them. It worked and I had a bird come every evening to feast on the crawfish and take them back to the nest. You can see these photos here.
This year, I decided to try my luck at feeding crawfish to these hawks. Sure enough, I put out 4-6 crawfish in the evening and they come down to catch and eat them. The juvenile usually just eats them on the lawn, but the adult catches one and flies into a tree to eat it.

Anyone can feed small birds with seed etc, but how many of you have been able to feed more unlikely customers like herons and hawks? I would be interested to hear of any stories you may have.

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2011 David McDonald

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