Nature: Cormorants are noisy, smelly, fascinating

Good news was shared with me this week about nesting tree swallows.

In recent years these lovely birds have been noticed by their absence in many island spots where they were numerous a few years ago. Friends in Tremont said they have been watching nesting tree swallows in their fields and got to see the young ones leave the nest box this past week.

It was a funny sight to see three young ones piled up on top of each other as they gave themselves courage in preparation for their first flights. Parent birds were flying about not too far away, hoping for success. Leaving the “nest” and its security is often hard for all young ones.

The graceful and beautiful tree swallows are masters of migration. Each year. wherever they live in the United States and Mexico, the birds start gathering together in great flocks in anticipation of leaving later for their wintering grounds in Cuba, Guatemala and Mexico.

These gathering flocks can be quite impressive to see. They used to be here on Mount Desert Island, but not in recent years. Dozens of them would often perch on a telegraph wire with their snowy white breasts facing whatever breeze they felt.

These graceful and beautiful green and blue swallows readily take to nest boxes put up for them, but they also like holes in a big tree or abandoned woodpecker holes. Directions for building nest boxes can be found in many places.

The swallows line their nests with feathers, especially white ones, and on this soft bed their pure white eggs are laid. Both parents share nesting duties. Incessant capturing of many insects is necessary for both parents when they are feeding the young ones. Watch for them in your neighborhood and in fields on this island. They are special birds to see.

Wherever swallows like to live you most likely will also find bluebirds nesting. I think bluebirds have been a favorite of many for years.

I remember way back in my “teaching music career” singing a little song: “Early in the spring we hear the bluebird sing … cheerily, cheerily, cheerily!” Every one was well acquainted with robins and bluebirds. If such birds live near you consider it very special and make them welcome and safe.

A friend saw an interesting great blue heron soaking up the sun in a small roadside pond just outside of Southwest Harbor this week. These very tall herons stand about six feet high, but often when they are standing in or at the edge of a pond they just look like the vegetation. They are masters of blending in. A great blue heron has a habit of standing very still with its wings held out slightly and its breast facing the sun in order to warm up on a chilly morning. It looks as if they are praying.

You often see cormorants sitting on a dock or rock with their wings out as they dry off after they have been diving for fish. Watch for this large black bird sitting in the sun.

Lovable is not what you think of as you learn about cormorants. A cormorant colony, although fascinating, is a messy, noisy and smelly place. The parents feed their young regurgitated food! In spite of some habits, though, they are fun to see and are very noticeable wherever they live. Travelers to Florida and other southern areas know them well. In the summer we get to see them near the water here on MDI. The Ellsworth waterfront park is another great spot to watch them. This is a small park on the river well worth visiting when you are in town.

A very redeeming habit of the adult cormorants has to do with sitting on the eggs. Both parents share this chore and when the mate comes to relieve the sitting bird it walks repeatedly around the nest, gently nudges the sitting bird and places it head under the sitting bird’s wing. They then exchange places. I have visited cormorant colonies and they are noisy, smelly and fascinating. I had a cormorant visit my small pond one day recently and I felt honored!

Flowers are bursting into bloom everywhere and I was told that a flower app for your phone can tell you immediately what it is. This sounds quite helpful, but I find it a challenge to take a good flower book and try to key it down myself. There are also some excellent botany sites on your computer for finding out what you have seen.

Take good pictures and send them in for identification. For coastal flowers my recent book, “Living on the Edge,” can be helpful and informative. It’s available at the Gilley Museum, Bass Harbor Historical Museum, local libraries, the Naturalist’s Notebook in Seal Harbor and other places.

Send any question, photos, or observations to tea[email protected] or call 244-3742.

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.
Ruth Grierson

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