Finding Nesting Birds in EHP: 2018 Report

Each year since 2010, I keep a record of the bird species that I observe nesting in Eliza Howell Park. As of July 1, I have seen 22 different species actively nesting in the park this year. It is possible that I will still add to the number (last year I found American Goldfinches, a late-nesting species, building nests in July), but this seems like a good time to report.

This list is only of those species whose nests I actually find, and does not include those I only see carrying food for their young or feeding fledglings; I need to actually find the nest. The total number of species over the 9 years is 34.

At the bottom, I list the 22 species. The pictures, all taken in 2018 in EHP, provide a few examples of experiencing the nests.

The latest found is also one that I have not found in the park prior to this year – Red-eyed Vireo. The nest, built the last week of June, is likely the second brood for this pair.

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Photo by Margaret Weber

Note how the vireo has twisted its body around to look at us, without getting off the eggs.

Much earlier in the nesting season I came across this ground nest of a Killdeer. It is not much of a nest in terms of construction, but is wonderfully camouflaged. (For more on this, see my April 24 post, “Killdeer: A Story of Nest and Eggs.”)

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Normally, I find a nest only when the bird’s behavior leads me to it; it is unusual to find nests by simply looking for nests. But, occasionally, I see a nest before I see the bird. In April, when shrubs were still free of leaves, I saw this nest.

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Revisiting it, I found a female Northern Cardinal incubating. One day, when she was absent, I took a picture of the inside.

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Most birds that nest in Eliza Howell are quite featherless and helpless when they first hatch (Killdeer, duck, and goose hatchlings are the only exceptions). American Robins are the most common nesting species in Eliza Howell and I stole a very quick picture of the inside of one nest shortly after hatching.

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The Blue Jays being fed below are much further developed.

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Photo by Margaret Weber

I wrote a couple weeks ago about watching a pair of Mourning Doves building a nest (posted June 13). At last look, incubation continues. This is probably the male on the eggs. I cannot tell that from observation, but those who study Mourning Doves report that the male usually takes the day shift and the female the night shift.

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Photo by Margaret Weber

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Nests found in 2018          (** = nest in tree cavity)

  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Killdeer
  • Mourning Dove
  • Rock Pigeon
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker**
  • Northern Flicker**
  • Downy Woodpecker **
  • Barn Swallow
  • Tree Swallow**
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Eastern Kingbird
  • Blue Jay
  • American Robin
  • Eastern Bluebird (bird box)
  • Red-eyed Vireo
  • Yellow Warbler
  • European Starling **
  • Common Grackle
  • Baltimore Oriole
  • Orchard Oriole
  • Northern Cardinal

Finding nesting birds is definitely a highlight of my spring and early summer. Thanks to Detroit Audubon field trips, every June since 2011 I have had the opportunity to share some of this excitement with others.

Mourning Dove: Serious Breeder, Slapdash Nest Builder

Two days after the June 9 Detroit Audubon bird walk in Eliza Howell Park, a field trip that was focused on about a dozen different nesting song birds, I came upon another new nest being constructed. A pair of Mourning Doves was energetically putting their nest together.

The Mourning Dove is one of the most common birds in the country. They are not usually described as “beautiful;” perhaps their abundance diminishes our appreciation for their lovely appearance. When I watch them carefully, I am often struck by details, like their pink legs and feet.

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Photo by Margaret Weber

Mourning doves have a prolonged breeding season, nesting early and often. In the south, they can have up to 6 broods a year. Here, it more likely three. The nest building I watched was, I have no doubt, at least the second of the season for this pair.

They sometimes place their nests on human-made structures or on top of old nests of other birds, but most frequently – and in each case that I have seen in the park – they are on (nearly) horizontal tree limbs, 8 – 20 feet high. This one is being built in a Locust tree. I would not have seen it if the bird building activity had not led me to it.

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The nest building was fascinating to watch and I observed for about 10 minutes. Mourning Doves are not bothered by human observers, as long as we are more than a few feet away. Their nests are made up of twigs and grass stems without an inner cup. The male brings the material to the female on the limb, and she puts the pieces together. While I was watching, the male was bringing grass stems. Some tall grass had been mowed several days before and long dry stems were easily available.

My observations included these:

  • The male made many quick trips. I timed them by counting seconds and his return trips with nesting material were, on the average, less than 20 seconds apart. A couple times he was back within 5 seconds.
  • He brought one stem at a time and each time stepped on the back of the sitting female to offer the construction piece.
  • I don’t know whether it was because she wasn’t ready or because the offering wasn’t what she wanted at that time or whether it was an accidental drop, but a number of the grass stems were dropped and floated to the ground.

Mourning Doves do not spend a long time making their nests, completing them in just a couple days. They are flimsy and not lined or insulated, but they have been successful for the doves for a very long time. They lay just two eggs, which are all white, and both the parents share incubation duties.

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Drawing taken from Baicich and Harrison, Nest, Eggs, and Nestlings of North American Birds, second edition.

In 10 minutes, the male made about 30 trips to the ground and back. It then paused its frantic pace (at least it appeared frantic to me), and both male and female flew off together for break.

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When I walked by the Locust tree again an hour later, they were back at work.