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For the Birds: Raising the young is fleeting, vital work for our birds, by Chris Bosak

Feeding time

A gray catbird brings a mouthful of goodies back to its young at Selleck’s/Dunlap Woods in Connecticut in spring 2014.

If humans grew up as fast as birds, there would be little need for a baby section in the local department store.

Birds are not afforded the luxury of fledging at 18 years old — or older. No, most songbirds fledge well before 18 days. Some birds are hatched and flying on their own at 10 days. Then the parents start another brood.

Heck, some birds, such as piping plovers, can see and walk as soon as they crack out of the shell.

Mid-June can be a tough time for birdwatchers. The spring songbird migration, for the most part, is over. Interesting waterfowl sightings are nearly non-existent unless you visit a pond where they nest. The early southward shorebird migration is still a few weeks away.

But mid-June can be a magical time for birdwatching as well.

In early spring, adults birds are frantically gathering nesting material. Soon they are frantically gathering food for their nestlings, and that demands an incredible amount of food. It’s been estimated that adult wrens can make more than 1,000 trips daily from and to their nests during this period. It’s a good thing this happens when there are plenty of sunny hours in the day. It’s also a good thing young wrens leave the nest after about two weeks.

By mid-June, young birds appear in our yards, usually with the parents not far away.

The first bird family I noticed this year was a mockingbird family. It was hard to miss. The young bird, which was already flying just fine, was constantly calling from a not-so-well-hidden perch. The alert parents were busy gathering food for the youngster and chasing off potential predators.

And in the minds of mockingbird parents, almost everything is a potential predator.

A gray squirrel once made the mistake of walking along a telephone wire in the vicinity of the calling youngster. One of the adult mockers went into attack mode. The gray squirrel sprinted as fast as it possibly could along the wire. It was nowhere near the young bird anymore, but the adult bird kept dive-bombing the shell-shocked squirrel.

Apparently, the mockingbirds didn’t want the squirrel on the wire at all and soon both parents were dive-bombing the squirrel. Finally, the squirrel retreated down a telephone pole and the adults went back to the youngster.

The entire episode lasted about four seconds but I’m sure it was a lesson well learned by the squirrel.

A pair of young cardinals has been hanging around my yard for the last week. The parents are never far away but seem to be keeping enough distance to let the “kids” build a sense of independence.

The first time I noticed the young cardinals, however, the male kept close. In fact, the young cardinals would perch on branches a few feet away from a feeder, while the male went back and forth delivering shelled sunflower seeds.

I’ve seen similar scenarios with downy woodpeckers, only with suet instead of sunflower seeds.

I see a young American robin with a dull, spotted breast at my birdbath at least two or three times a day. I don’t see any adults nearby when this brave young bird visits. Perhaps the parents are busy with a second or third brood already.

My favorite visitors to the yard this week were three white-breasted nuthatches. Two adults and a youngster work the trees up and down searching for insects. They also supplement their diets with easy meals at the feeders. I go long stretches without seeing nuthatches in my yard, so the recent visits have been welcomed.

Venture into the woods and fields and a whole new world of watching young bird families opens up. The other day I found a downy woodpecker nest and a hairy woodpecker nest by following the high-pitched din made by the youngsters. The attentive parents were never gone for very long.

Defensive behavior by birds is on display this time of year. I walked along a path the other day and two gray catbirds scolded the heck out of me until I was long clear of their nest. Eastern towhees and common yellowthroats also voiced their displeasure with me walking along the trails.

Every season has its charms for birdwatching in New England. Summer is a charming and vital season for birds as the successful raising of young means more birds to see in the future.

Drop me a line and let me know what young birds or nests you are seeing out there.

For the Birds runs Mondays in The Sentinel. Chris Bosak may be reached at chrisbosak26@gmail.com or through his website www.birdsofnewengland.com

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