Archive for February 17th, 2006

Tree swallow youngsters take flight from nest
Woodpecker, sparrow fledgings grow stronger You may recall last week’s column about the tree swallow nestlings in my yard. At the time, I was sure they were close to fledging, and this turned out to be correct. One day soon after, I heard excited, intense calls, and looked out to see three birds flying above the clearing. It was immediately obvious there was at least one fledgling was up out of the nest — instead of the graceful control of adult swallows, this bird — although flying strongly — made its age apparent when it landed to rest clumsily on the topmost branches of a tall white pine. At least two fledglings remained inside the box, however. One was always visible as it perched within the entrance hole, calling to its parents. At intervals an adult bird swooped deftly to the hole to feed its chick, and I could hear other calls coming from inside. The remaining fledglings stayed in the box for two more days; then they were gone. They have probably flown to the marsh nearby, by day feeding on the wing and increasing their strength and ability, by night roosting above the wetland. But I am in no way experiencing “empty nest” syndrome. There is still so much activity in the yard. Hairy woodpeckers are still showing up at the feeders with their young. The begging calls of the fledg-lings—who are fully feathered and as big as their parents—always wake me up in the morning. It seems so comical that they’d still beg for food, for they seem completely capable of retrieving the seeds themselves. Most of the time, the fat youngster clings to the side of the porch’s corner post, waiting for the parent to come to it. Sometimes, though, it gets impatient and flies to the feeder, clinging to the side opposite the parent, making it swing back and forth. Even then, the baby waits for its parent to feed it the seed. Downy woodpeckers have produced young as well. One time I observed a downy woodpecker fledgling attempting to beg food from a hairy woodpecker adult. The hairy would have none of it and chased the youngster away, as if to say, “It’s all I can do to feed my own children!” Chipping sparrows were also successful breeders and there were many young hopping through the grass, begging food but also making attempts to procure their own meals. The young chippy resembles its parents not at all. It lacks the chestnut crown patch and the clean grey chest, exhibiting heavily streaked plumage instead. Perhaps the most endearing fledglings of all were the black-capped chickadees. They’d follow their parents from tree limb to tree limb, emitting a high, reedy, garbled version of the “chick-a-dee” call. Then they’d assume their begging posture: wings lowered and held slightly away from their sides, they’d vibrate and shake them rapidly until a parent stuffed an insect into their wide-open beaks. Soon, I expect goldfinch fledglings to make their first appearances, for these birds breed much later than do others, timing their cycle to coincide with the blooming of thistle, an important food source. Stay tuned … NEWS bird columnist Chris Corio can be reached at

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