Watching and Wondering

Watching a bird incubate is not very exciting.

Lady Baltimore spends most of her time in the nest. So, I spend most of mine watching her sit. Or rather, watching her tail, which is mostly all that I see. By my calculations, it’s about time for her babies to start hatching, one per day for four or five days. And a cowbird, too, if the interloper I caught scoping out the nest managed to lay an egg inside.

So, I’m watching that unexciting nest closely, looking for any movement that might suggest hatchlings within.

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Hanging by a Thread

The Baltimore Oriole poked and pulled on her growing web of thread.

I was fascinated by her nest-building technique. Her work seemed somewhat random, yet over just a few days, the tangled thread evolved from loose and flat to a tightly woven, multi-layered pouch. Her construction project took about eleven days to complete. I marveled at how a bird’s instinct could guide such intricate weaving.

But Lady Baltimore’s work was not without drama.

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In a Terrible Tangle

The male Baltimore Oriole hopped onto the nest-in-process.

I was watching the early days of oriole nest construction. The male stopped by periodically, but not to weave, because the female does all the work. He would hop in, poke his beak at a few strings, and hop out. Cornell’s Birds of the World explains that when the male visits the nest, it’s usually to inspect his mate’s handiwork. And based on what I saw, he often messed it up, yanking out stitches as he fumbled in the tangled web of string.

But one day—the third day of construction—I watched in horror as the male, dubbed Lord Baltimore, didn’t just tug on the stringy nest material.

He got himself stuck.

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A Red-bellied Predator

The persistent pounding caught my eye.

A woodpecker appeared to be pecking for prey. Red-bellied woodpeckers have a varied diet. Cornell’s Birds of the World says their main fare consists of fruits, nuts, insects, lizards, tree frogs, and the eggs and nestlings of small birds. But a woodpecker could take those foods in a single snatch. It seemed odd that the bird was taking so long to snag his prey.

Looking at my camera’s tiny screen, I couldn’t identify the woodpecker’s quarry. The bird flew off after some two minutes of work,  and I stopped filming. I didn’t give him another thought.  That is, until later when I downloaded the video.

My full-screen view revealed a horrifyingly fascinating sight.

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An Avian Friendversary

Five years ago, Pileated Woodpeckers friended me.

Okay… strictly speaking, it’s been a one-way friendship: Me admiring some magnificent birds.

It began in April 2015. I was home every day, all day, recovering from surgery. I felt confined, not unlike today’s stay-put virus isolation. My sanity-saver was our expanse of sliding glass doors. They overlook a steep, wooded bluff that brings some trees’ crowns near eye-level, just yards away.

When I first noticed two woodpeckers pounding persistently, I assumed they were foraging. The tree they were pecking wore fungus on its trunk. There had to be insects under the bark.

A week later, I realized my error.

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An Icy Eagle Encounter

The Bald Eagles were brawling on the ice.

At least, that’s what I thought I saw. I had been watching two juveniles for about twenty minutes.  Motionless in the frigid wind howling over Lake Allegan’s ice, the eagles appeared to be scanning for fish.

That was unusual, however. Our eagles typically conduct surveillance from high in the nearby trees. An island—aptly named Eagle Island by Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources—provides a broad view of the surrounding water. But these birds stood next to a narrow gap in the ice. Their horizontal line of sight would allow only a limited view of open water flowing in the lake’s main channel.

Then, as I pondered, one of the eagles dive-bombed the other. Perhaps they were not fishing, after all. Were they having an avian tiff?

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The (Not So) Abominable Snow Squirrel

Squirrels get a bad rap.

Some people even think they’re abominable. Sure, the little critters tuck into garden tomatoes. They steal seeds from bird feeders. But even the most hardened, anti-squirrel gardeners and birdwatchers must admit: They’re cute. Adorable, even.

Especially in the snow.

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No Soap Needed

In a driving rain, a squirrel sat on my favorite snag.

Snags are dead and dying trees, like the broken beech behind our home. Over the years, this tree has welcomed nesting woodpeckers, starlings, flycatchers, and wood ducks.  In winter, squirrels move in. They leave their summer dreys—the leafy nests we see in the crooks of branches—for warmer quarters.

On that wet, cold morning, I wondered: Why wasn’t the squirrel sheltering inside the tree? There are several cavities within the hollow snag. He wasn’t scampering for food. Instead, he sat placidly in the rain, perched on the very top of the tree.

Then—well, with a small dose of imagination—I realized what he was up to.

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Merganser Musings

Fall is a fine time to flirt.

If you’re a Hooded Merganser, that is. We think of spring as nesting season, but these little ducks form pairs as early as fall. I didn’t realize the ducks are such advance planners, so when I noticed their lively antics on Lake Allegan below our home, I assumed the birds were just reacting to the November cold.

Then I noticed some familiar behavior.

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Knock, Knock…

A woodpecker was foraging on my tree.

I wondered if she knew who was drumming nearby.

Woodpeckers drum for several reasons. Pairs signal each other during courtship, or when approaching to take a shift in the nest. But it was late September, not April. This was no time to begin a brood in Michigan.

Thrum-m-m-m-m. Another drumroll.

The lady peered around the curve of the tree. She seemed to be searching.

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