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May 2012 Wild Bird Center e-Newsletter
The period of incubation varies for different bird species. Many songbirds have short incubation periods (~2 weeks). The chicks are born blind and featherless, and clearly in need of intense parental care (altricial species). Parents must spend lots of time and energy gathering food and keeping the young chicks warm. Other species incubate their eggs for longer periods (~30 days) and the young are born with some down feathers and almost ready to leave the nest in search of food (precocial species); killdeer and ducks are typical of these species.
Newborn chicks are very vulnerable to predators and starvation, and species have developed different methods for minimizing these threats. Many seabirds that nest in open beach areas leave the nest shortly after hatching and live in a sheltered environment while developing into adults. Many songbird chicks stay in the secluded nest or cavity and grow very rapidly to the size of a mature adult--often in two weeks!
Rapid growth requires the proper quality and quantity of food. Songbirds babies need food that is high in protein, and parents find that most available in the form of insects. Even birds that regularly eat seeds and nectar will collect insects for their young during this time of year (including hummingbirds). Other species (pigeons and doves) have developed the approach of mammals for feeding newborns. These species feed their young a material with a texture like that of cottage cheese called "crop milk". These chicks are unable to digest seeds and the parents feed them a diet of fluid-filled cells that come from the lining of their crops. Crop milk is very high and protein and fat, and very low in calcium and carbohydrates. Unlike mammals, avian males and females are both capable of producing and feeding crop milk. As the young digestive system develops the parents slowly introduce seed into the crop and the young soon are on an exclusive seed diet.
The number of eggs and broods in a season varies by species. Each species must create a minimum number of breeding pairs to continue survival, but there must not be too many or survival may be endangered by a lack of available food or habitat. The Northern bobwhite typically has two broods per year, each with 12-15 eggs. The Red-tailed hawk has one brood per year with 2-3 eggs, which is an indication of the high mortality rate of the Northern bobwhite chicks.
It is not uncommon to find eggs and chicks on the ground in suburban yards at this time of year. While it is tempting to intervene, the advice of most wildlife experts is to do nothing, or as little as possible--incubating eggs and feeding chicks is an impossible task in most households. Simple guidelines are: (1) for eggs or babies with little or no feathers, return them to the nest; (2) if the baby has feathers, place it in a nearby tree or bush, since the parents are probably nearby and will care for it. Other situations and proposed actions are found on the web page of Wild Bird Rehabilitation (314-447-0060).
Additional information on bird nesting and care of young can be found at
New Products and Special Savings in May!
May Products of the Month--Squirrel Baffles
Wild Bird Center, Birding Number of the Month: In spring we can hear woodpeckers drumming, feeding, and excavating cavities. What is their frequency of pecking?.
The answer to the April Species Quiz (left picture) is the Song Sparrow. What is the species in the picture on the right? Answer in the June e-Newsletter.
May Birding News.
Birds to look for in May include Cardinals, Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds, Eastern Towhees, Indigo Buntings, Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks, Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, American Goldfinches, and Blue Jays. Be sure to ask our advice on how to attract these and other species during May.
Hummingbirds are here, so make sure you have your feeders up now and keep the nectar fresh and clean! If you make your own nectar, remember to boil the water and DON’T add any food coloring!
Best Seeds to feed in May: A good late spring mix will have Black Oil Sunflower as the number one ingredient. A good rule of thumb is 60% sunflower. If you have more trees, add more sunflower. Steer clear of any mix that contains milo, wheat, oats, or cracked corn. Shelled peanuts will be continue to be attractive, but if you notice flocks of Starlings at your feeder, reduce your offering to just a handful a day. Common Grackles can sometimes show up in abundance during this time. If they are present at your feeders, try switching to all Safflower seed to discourage them. This month, nesting birds are craving more energy to raise their young, so continue to offer suet in May.
Laying an egg depletes a bird of 10% of her body calcium, so nesting birds need added calcium in their diet. You can offer dried eggshells which will replace the needed calcium. To dry eggshells, spread them on a cookie sheet and put in a 250 degree oven for 30 minutes.
What’s Nesting in May: Bluebirds, Chickadees, Nuthatches, Titmice, Wrens, House Finches, Blue Jays, and Woodpeckers.
This Month’s Hint – . Some baby birds will fledge in May, so watch for the babies at your feeders. The best way to identify them is by their behavior, as most babies fledge after they reach their adult size. Watch for the vibrating wings that are a signal to the parents to bring food. You will see both adults and babies at the feeder, but most often, the adult will be feeding the youngster. Most of our feeder birds will prefer black oil sunflower. If the shells are a problem for you, consider using hulled sunflower instead. You won’t have anything to clean up!
Most birds have more than one brood through the spring and summer, so it’s not too late to put up a bird house for any cavity nester; bluebirds, chickadees, titmice, and some woodpeckers, as well as wrens.
Great Kids’ Project for May: Practice identifying some of the common birds at your feeder. Borrow your parents’ binoculars or get a simple set made just for kids. With binoculars and a simple bird guide, practice recognizing some of the most common songbirds: Cardinals, Goldfinches, Chickadees. Then you’ll know when something new is at the feeder.
The Birding Number of the Month. According to about.com, woodpeckers can peck at a rate of about 20 time per second. It is estimated that they peck 8,000 to 12,000 times per day, which is in the range of 3-4 million times per year!
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