Variety adds spice to life in the bird kingdom Spring brings out a wealth of differences in bird nesting practices


ummer is the season of reproduc- tion for most of nature’s crea- tures. More than 700 species of

wild birds breed in North America, and the


ences in nesting behaviour, nest building and the way young are raised is strik- ing. The whole process of courting, nest building and raising a brood is a taxing venture, and the dedica- tion of the parent birds is remarkable in several ways. In spring, as daylight are


birds begin to undergo physiological

extended, changes

the in

preparation for the breed- ing season. The timing of nesting can relate to food sources for some bird species. For example, Ameri- can goldfinches breed late in June to time with the ripening of thistle plants, one of their favourite natural foods. Keeping watch on territory

protect a nesting territory through the winter, although other

Some of Manitoba’s native birds will species


theirs in spring. Migratory birds choose a territory upon arrival and will defend it aggressively, because the whole pur- pose of migration is to reproduce. Their choice of area depends on shelter and food sources. When it comes to attracting a mate, it’s all about the male displaying himself

Song birds are totally helpless when they hatch.

in a manner that will cause a female to find him suitable. For the male this dis- play may include a number of antics, like showing bright plumage, aerial displays to show off his good health, gathering perfect pieces of nesting material, of-

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fering food to the female and of course singing. Some species, like robins and doves, do mate for life, while others are far from faithful. DNA testing has shown that some nestlings of the same brood of eastern bluebirds have multiple fathers. Male red-winged blackbirds and house wrens are known to have more than one mate at a time. This is called “polygyny”. Nests are designed to be a safe place

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both for the eggs and for the young growing birds. It’s astonishing how dif- ferent one species’ nest can be from the next. Nests can be found in many plac- es: on the ground, in trees or shrubs, in cavities and on many types of man-made structures. Many people discover robins have built nests on outdoor lights out- side their front doors; doves often build in hanging potted plants. In most cases, females are the nest builders but in some species the partners build the nest to- gether; in other cases, such as the house wren, the male constructs the nest him- self. A female may lay as few as two or

three eggs per brood, while in some spe- cies, like wood ducks, the female can lay

up to 10 eggs. Females will produce one egg per day or one every other day. Most songbirds begin incubation after they have finished laying all of their eggs; this ensures all the young will hatch around the same time. Larger birds like blue herons, and many birds of prey, incubate as soon as the first egg is laid so their young may hatch on different days. Songbirds are totally helpless when

they hatch, being blind and bald! The most they can do is open their mouths to beg for food. It takes about a week for eyes to open and the first feathers to sprout. Songbirds grow incredibly fast, doubling their weight every few days. Ducks, geese and most shorebirds are born fully feathered and completely mo- bile.

High death rate is common For songbirds, feeding the young is a

highly demanding and even dangerous job. Many trips to and from the nest, along with cries from the hungry young, can be counted on to attract predators. It takes songbirds about two to three weeks to leave the nest, while large birds like eagles stay in the nest for eight to 10 weeks.

Almost all bird species can expect a 50

per cent death rate among their young, either in the nest or after they have fledged. For all birds, the first year of life is the toughest. If they survive that, blessedly, their chances of living their ex- pected lifespan greatly improve. Sherrie Versluis owns The Preferred Perch

on St. Mary’s Road in St. Vital. She can be reached at 204-257-3724.

Wishing you a Happy Father’s Day

Sherrie Versluis Feathered Friends

Scott Fielding

MLA for Kirkfield Park

14 June 2018

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