Nesting Birds: Female and Male Roles

Most of the songbirds that breed in Eliza Howell Park are nesting now and providing great opportunities to learn about bird behavior. Part of my observation is focused on the different role that female and male parents play in nest building, incubation of eggs, and feeding the young. It varies somewhat from species to species.

After returning from time in the park, I often check the published research to expand my knowledge and/or confirm my observations.

Note: All photos were taken by Margaret Weber. Thank you.

barn swallow love

Barn Swallow

Barn Swallows nest every year under the Fenkell bridge over the Rouge River and sometimes under park shelters in nests that are made of mud and lined with plant material. Female and male Barn Swallows not only look alike, they also share many aspects of breeding.

They both build the nest.

They both incubate the eggs.

They both tend the nestlings.

hummingbird in nest

male ruby throated protrait

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

The first picture is of a female on the nest; the second of the male in a perching position that is often taken during nesting season. The two sexes do not have similar roles.

The female alone builds the nest.

The female alone incubates the eggs.

The female alone tends the nestlings.

The male is around, often perching (on guard?) on different trees in nesting territory, but does not assist the female.

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Baltimore Oriole

Several Baltimore Oriole hanging nests are made every year in large trees  in Eliza Howell. Based on the time this year’s nests were built, I expect that eggs will hatch very soon and the feeding nestlings phase will begin. The picture is of a female feeding the young.

The female does most of the nest building. I have seen males occasionally bring material for the female to weave.

The female alone incubates the eggs.

Both tend the nestlings.

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Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-bellied woodpeckers are the most common (at least the most noticeable) woodpeckers in the park, boring new nesting holes in dead trees each year. The picture is of a male during the excavation process, which takes several days.

Both female and male bore the hole, but most of it is done by the male.

Both incubate the eggs.

Both tend the nestlings.

coming at you

Red-winged Blackbird

The male Red-winged Blackbird (pictured) is sometimes polygamous and watches over more than one nest in his territory. Many of us have had the experience of the male “yelling” at us and flying in low, often right above/at the head, to chase us away when we get close to a nest or to fledglings.

The female alone builds the nest.

The female alone incubates the eggs.

Both female and male tend the nestlings.

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By contrast to migration time, when the focus is on identifying the different species as they appear, in nesting time my attention is much more on bird behavior. I find this even more interesting.

 

 

 

 

Bright Beautiful Breeding Baltimore Orioles

(Note: See below for information on the upcoming Eliza Howell nesting birds field trip — June 9, 2018)

Each year in May and June, visitors to Eliza Howell Park are treated to the sight and sound of Baltimore Orioles. The orioles spend the winters in Central America and arrive back in Detroit, with great regularity, during the first week of May. For those who are looking, their colors make them hard to miss.

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Photo by Margaret Weber

They begin to construct their intricately woven nests two to three weeks after the first arrivals. I noted the first Eliza Howell Baltimore Oriole this year on May 4 and saw a pair engaged in nest construction on May 18.

In a typical year, several different pairs nest in the park. From May 18 to May 21 this year, I have already seen 5 different nests under construction.

Most of the work of nest construction is done by the female over a period of 4 – 8 days. The nest is suspended from a twig, usually near the end of a branch. It is a pouch that looks something like a hanging sock. It is about 6 inches long, with a small opening at the top, and a bulging bottom (where the eggs are incubated). It is made of grasses, other plant fibers, and sometimes artificial material like yarn.

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The nest pictured above was made in the park last year, less than 10 feet from the ground. Usually they are much higher, in large leafy, deciduous trees, but not in a forest. Parks like Eliza Howell, with big scattered trees, are ideal spots. Over the years, I have come to know their tree preferences; this cottonwood by the road is definitely one. 

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The nests are easiest to find at this time of the year, during construction, when the bird is making frequent trips with nesting material. Without the bird leading the observer’s eye to the nest, it is very difficult to locate.

The following picture shows an incomplete nest in a typical location, hanging near the end of a branch. When the leaves are fully developed, it will be almost impossible to see from the ground. (This is also in a cottonwood tree.)

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Another good time to find a nest is during feeding time, when the adults (both male and female) make frequent visits to the nest to feed the young.

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Photo by Margaret Weber

Detroit Audubon schedules an annual field trip to Eliza Howell for a guided look at nesting orioles and a number of other nesting species. It is timed for feeding hatchlings time. After the orioles complete the nests and lay the eggs, incubation (by female alone) takes about 12 – 14 days. 

     Detroit Audubon Nesting Songbirds Field Trip

     Saturday, June 9, 8:00 a.m. – approximately 10:00 a.m.

     Everyone is welcome, no cost. Audubon membership not required.

     Meeting location: about halfway around the road loop from the Fenkell entrance

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Photo by Margaret Weber

The orioles are called “Baltimore” because someone was reminded of Lord Baltimore’s yellow and black coat of arms. To me, they look much more orange than yellow. Regardless, they and I will be in the park to welcome everyone on June 9. 

Red-tailed Hawk Nest: The Beginning of the 2018 Bird Nest Season

About the middle of February, I commented that the behavior of two Red-tailed Hawks indicated that they would likely nest in Eliza Howell Park again this year. I can now report that I have found the nest. It’s great to have this raptor nesting in the park again!

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Photo by Margaret Weber

The basic strategy for successful bird nest hunting is to let the bird lead one to the nest. Using three pieces of information:

  • where I have most frequently seen the hawks soaring during the last month;
  • the fact that they call/scream most when I walk in a particular section of the park;
  • the location of last year’s nest (they are one species that may re-use a nest from the previous year);

I knew the general area in which to look. The plan was for a one-time-only approach, simply to confirm the fact of nesting. After that I would observe only from a long distance to minimize disturbance.

Because there are no leaves on the trees yet, the nest was not hard to find.

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The nest is bulky, made of twigs with a finer lining inside, and may be over a foot deep. Hawks can be in a high nest like this without being visible from below. Right after I took this picture, a hawk flew out and scolded me. I headed away immediately, satisfied. It is likely that there are 2-3 eggs in the nest, which need to be incubated for about a month.

This begins one of my favorite annual bird-watching activities, locating active bird nests. I observe an “active” bird nest when I see it being built or see a bird on it or entering it/exiting it. I don’t consider a nest without the bird an active nest. In the winter, when leaves are down, I often see additional no-longer active nests that I have missed during the previous breeding season.

In each of the last three years, I have located the active nests of at least 16 different species in Eliza Howell Park. Over the years, I have found the nests of 37 different species here.

Most are song bird species and each year in early June, Detroit Audubon sponsors a breeding bird walk in Eliza Howell Park during which I can guide participants in their observation of nests and nesting bird behavior. Baltimore Orioles are among the EHP nesters each year.

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Photo by Margaret Weber

Invitation:

The 2018 Detroit Audubon Breeding Bird field trip in Eliza Howell Park is Saturday, June 9, from 8:00 a.m. to approximately 10:30 a.m. Detroit Audubon membership is not required. Anyone interested is welcome.