ISLANDER FILE PHOTO

Tropical birds bring color



Tropical birds arrived with a flourish this past week, bringing color and joy to the area. A friend on Islesford kept my phone busy as each beautiful bird landed on her feeder. A pair of rose-breasted grosbeaks was first, followed by both the northern oriole (formerly Baltimore) and orchard oriole. Then came a catbird. From other residents here on Mount Desert Island, hummingbird reports were called in. I saw red-winged blackbirds in the reeds at the Seawall causeway, and an indigo bunting was seen in Bar Harbor. It was a good week for birds. Many warblers have been arriving as well, and anyone listening carefully and with good hearing can have fun trying to identify them all. There are many tools you can carry with you these days to identify bird calls in the field.

A friend in Winter Harbor is an expert on the arrival time of hummingbirds. He keeps track of where they are all along their northern springtime journey and posts regularly on Facebook. The arrival times of hummingbirds at his feeder each spring are very accurate.

When the tropical migrants arrive, they are hungry, and if it is chilly or very wet weather, they really appreciate and need a little offering of good food. Offer orioles and such birds pieces of fruit, halved oranges, etc. and also put out suet for quick energy.

The sight of an indigo bunting is quite special. For the most part, we have very few really blue colored birds. Although the indigo bunting is a deep, rich blue all over, it does not always catch your attention in certain lighting conditions. If you see it on your feeder someday, though, it will definitely attract your attention. Winter and immature buntings often show brown on some feathers. In the breeding plumage, however, the male is blue all over and very lovely. Indigo buntings are smaller than a house sparrow. The female is difficult to identify without the male nearby, for she is brown all over. Generally male birds are more colorful than the females but not always.

Although bluebirds do nest here, they are scarce these days. English sparrows, so-called house sparrows, have seriously decimated their population. This sparrow will go right into a nesting bluebird’s house, kill the parent bluebird as she sits on the eggs, and then the sparrow will nest in the house itself. These sparrows, introduced from Europe a number of years ago, have really made a negative impact on the bluebird population in this country.

The rose-breasted grosbeak is a special beauty from the tropics coming to us each spring and nesting on our island. It is a friendly bird, and of course the male is a real beauty with his black-and-white design and crimson V across his chest. He has a lovely musical song, and both parents are devoted to their young. As the female sits on the eggs, the male is nearby singing to her. When the eggs hatch, he helps with parenting.

Twice this week, I have heard of small birds busy with building their nests actually visiting mops left to dry and air on island porches. The birds pick out any animal hairs from your pets, such as dogs and cats, and the birds take them off to put in their nests. Chickadees and nuthatches were seen doing this. Human hair and horse hair also is welcomed.

A very large snapping turtle was marching on my driveway one day recently. It no doubt had come out looking for a place to lay eggs. Such turtles can live a long time in ponds and lakes and never be seen. I had no idea there was a big one living there. We had an interesting chain of events in a pond on our sanctuary in Katonah, N.Y., one time. Too many skunks had been killed on a busy highway. Skunks are a big control on the number of snapping turtles surviving each year. This is very important, for skunks especially seek out and eat eggs of this potentially large turtle. The turtles lay about 50 plus eggs each year, and once the turtles reach any size, they have few enemies except cars.

If they are not controlled in some way, life in a pond becomes unsafe for song birds coming to the pond’s edge to drink or eat; any ducks floating on the surface are vulnerable to attack from below, and fish, frogs, other turtles, etc. are eaten. In proper balance, a few snappers in a pond are no trouble, but these large turtles out of balance present a problem for the health of the pond or lake. The nightly visits by skunks and their habit of digging out the turtle eggs for a good meal are very important. Foxes and raccoons also enjoy turtle eggs. I shall be keeping close watch on the comings and goings of the birds around the pond and the ones that nest there each year. In the past, I have seen mallard and wood duck babies. When wildlife communities are in balance, life goes on successfully.

The cattails at the pond next to the causeway at Seawall have red-winged blackbirds now, and from the road you can watch their nesting and courtship activities. I really like the “honk-er-ee” call the males lustily make now as they hope to win the female of their choice. The males always arrive first, and then in a few weeks, the females come. Even though the male may have picked what he thinks is the best location, the female decides where the nest will be. Watch the males when they call, for they always lean forward a bit, spread open their wings while displaying the red epaulettes and loudly sing “honk-er-ee.” Try watching them do this through binoculars. It’s quite a display!

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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

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