It’s Nest Building Time!

by Colleen Curran Hook

Many birds are busy building nests in May and June, as the weather is nice and our native Thorn Forest is producing fruits and other food.

Kiskadee Waiting To Build Nest

If a tree fork is not available, Kiskadees use man-made poles to support their nest made of grass, moss and bark. Photo by Carlos Hinojosa.

A permanent resident that nests in the Rio Grande Valley is the Great Kiskadee.  It’s a showy flycatcher about 10 inches in size with a black and white striped head and yellow belly.  Both sexes build the nest, which is shaped like a fat rugby ball, 14-18” long, with a side opening, using whatever material is at hand.  They typically build their nest in a tree fork near the top of trees including the Texas Ebony, Mesquite, Hackberry and Cedar Elm.

Kiskadee Nest

Kiskadees build a side entrance to their rugby ball shaped nest. Photo by Carlos Hinojosa.

If a tree top is not available, they may need to use the next best thing, telephone or electric poles.  And if no new opportunities present themselves the next year, they will reuse the nest, and refresh with new grass, moss and bark.  In the photograph, the monogamous couple is refreshing an old nest—thus the nest looks larger than normal.  The side entrance to their home is lined with soft feathers. Kiskadee Bringing Branch To Nest

The Great Kiskadee averages 4 to 5 eggs which incubate 15 to 17 days.  Young birds stay in the nest approximately 3 to 4 weeks before they fly.  The diet of the Kiskadee consists mainly of insects caught in flight, berries, small fish and tadpoles.  Male and female are aware of predators and guard their home, the nest and their young.  Its loud “kis-ka-dee” call is used to scare off predators.

What should you do if you find a baby bird?  In most instances, leave the bird alone.  Exceptions arise, but more often than not you do more harm than good by getting involved in a rescue attempt of a baby bird.  Exceptions may include rescuing the bird from a dog or cat or getting it out of the road.  If you feel the bird fell from its nest too early, you may try and return the bird to its nest.  Birds have a poor sense of smell and very strong parental instincts, which means they will usually continue to care for their young.  Yet they are cautious and may not return for several hours, so during this period it is best not to re-approach the nest and check on the status of the baby.

The bird breeding season is one of the most exciting times of the year to get to know some of our local birds.  Join us for a bird walk to see some nests, eggs, and babies in person!

Join us for a Bird and Nature Walk at 8:30am every Saturday throughout the summer at Quinta Mazatlan!


Curve-billed Thrasher – a tale of four eggs

Article written and photographed by our Interpretive Guide and Birder John Brush.

One of the most exciting things about being here at Quinta Mazatlan is the everyday connection with nature – whether we’re pulling into the parking lot, walking up the beautiful bougainvillea lane, or looking out an office window; nature is everywhere.

A great example of this has been a lively pair of Curve-billed Thrashers nesting in our parking lot. The lush native prickly pear cacti serve as a great home for these classic birds of the arid southwest, as they frequently nest in thorny plants, such as cacti, yucca, and Texas Ebony.

Curve-billed Thrasher Collage

We get to check on the nest every day from a distance, seeing how the thrashers are progressing – we have already witnessed one successful nesting attempt (4 babies hatched and fledged!) and the thrashers are well underway on their second brood of the season.

Here’s a typical nesting attempt by the thrashers (information based from the Birds of North America account, by Cornell Lab of Ornithology):

  • A cup nest of twigs and other materials is built by both sexes, usually taking a week or two to build.
  • 3-5 blue, speckled eggs are laid, one day at a time. They are incubated by both the male and female thrashers.
  • After a couple weeks of incubation, the eggs hatch asynchronously, sometimes up to 1 full day between eggs. This means that the firstborn thrasher can be up to 5 days older than its youngest sibling.
  • The baby thrashers are born naked and helpless, relying on the protection of the nest and their parents for survival. The parents feed the hungry babies an assortment of insects, such as grasshoppers and beetles, along with juicy berries.
  • After about 2 weeks of being fed in the nest, during which the thrasher babies grow their feathers and further develop their bodies, the baby birds fledge.

This year I’ve especially gotten fond of seeing the juvenile birds pale brown eyes, as compared to the vivid orange eyes of their parents. The curious young are fun to watch as they familiarize themselves with their home thorn forest, scratching in the leaf litter and running vigorously across trails.

Who knows, maybe I’ll get to watch these new thrashers raise their own young in the upcoming years. What a treat!

Keep up with this nest on our Facebook!  Join us for a Bird and Nature Walk at 8:30am every Saturday throughout the summer at Quinta Mazatlan!

Bird Walk: June 22nd, 2013

This is a weekly bird report written and photographed by our Interpretive Guide and Birder John Brush.

Had the morning bird walk to myself for the first time this summer – interesting because in past years we could go a couple months in summer without any visitors. Not anymore! This allowed me to spend a little more time photographing and taking videos of some of Quinta Mazatlan’s “Backyard Birds”.

Bird Walk 2013-06-22 Northern Cardinal John Brush

One thing I spent time looking for was bands on any of the birds I saw. Mark Conway, a local bird bander, had asked me to do so a while back, and I’ve been keeping a loose eye on it. This Northern Cardinal male has a band on his left leg.

Bird Walk 2013-06-22 Bronzed Cowbird John Brush

I followed this Bronzed Cowbird female around the trails for a few minutes, trying to get a decent shot. After reviewing it, I noticed that she, too, had a band on her left leg! Bronzed Cowbird females often get rather sneaky during the breeding season, as they look for nests to parasitize.

Bird Walk 2013-06-22 Curve-billed Thrasher John Brush

I remember attending the banding session when we caught and banded this specific Curve-billed Thrasher.  The distinctive feature of this bird is the once-broken right leg. You can see it healed a little crooked, but obviously has not had much of an impact on the life of this bird.

Bird Walk 2013-06-22 Curve-billed Thrasher nest John Brush

I checked the Curve-billed Thrasher nest in the parking lot and was excited to see a very newly hatched bird! According to the Birds of North America series, Curve-billed Thrasher eggs hatch asynchronously, with sometimes up to 24 hours between individual eggs hatching. By Tuesday or Wednesday next week all the eggs should have hatched.  Keep up with this nest on our Facebook!

Have a good weekend!

Join us for a Bird and Nature Walk at 8:30am every Saturday throughout the summer at Quinta Mazatlan!

Bird Walk: June 15th, 2013

This is a weekly bird report written and photographed by our Interpretive Guide and Birder John Brush.

Aside from running in to Mary Beth Stowe, an excellent local birder, it was the regulars who joined me for the bird walk. We didn’t tally a huge species list, but that’s to be expected this time of year. We did, as always, have a good time seeing some of our resident breeders.

Bird Walk 2013-06-15 Chachalaca John Brush

Plain Chachalacas had a couple choruses this morning. When they fluff out their feathers they become quite striking birds! I have still yet to see, personally, baby chachalacas this year, though I know some other staff members have seen them.

Bird Walk 2013-06-15 Golden-Fronted Woodpecker John Brush

This female Golden-fronted Woodpecker is probably ready to start her second brood of the season, if she hasn’t already. I had been keeping an eye on her and her mate’s first nest, and I think they already fledged young from the first brood. Time to do it all over again!

Bird Walk 2013-06-15 Eastern Screech Owl John Brush

We saw two Eastern Screech-Owls this morning: one in the usual spot along bougainvillea lane, and the other poking its head out into the bright sun near the amphitheater. Always good to confirm we have a pair in the park, and I’m sure they have or will nest this year.

Bird Walk 2013-06-15 Shrike Roach Impale John Brush

This isn’t a picture of a bird, but its certainly evidence of one! This looks to be the work of a Loggerhead Shrike, which is known to impale prey for consumption or storage. Victory for the shrike – nice to know those roaches get eaten, too!

Bird Walk 2013-06-15 Curve-billed Thrasher Eggs John Brush

One pair of Curve-billed Thrashers are on their second brood of the summer. They built another nest in the same cactus, and these four beautiful eggs are being incubated. Both sexes will help incubate the eggs during the two week period until hatching.

Have a good week!

Join us for a Bird and Nature Walk at 8:30am every Saturday throughout the summer at Quinta Mazatlan!

Bird Babies Everywhere- It’s Breeding Season!

Written and photographed by Interpretive Guide and Birder John Brush.

It is that time of year again: loud begging calls erupt from a dense Texas Ebony tree as the parent Mockingbird flies in with a big grasshopper. Groups of fledglings with their stubby tails and brand new feathers follow parents from branch to branch, hoping to be first in line for that juicy berry or caterpillar. There is bird activity everywhere – the breeding season is now in full swing!

What is the breeding season in the Rio Grande Valley? It is a time period, starting in March and April and extending through the summer as late as August, when many of the permanent and summer resident birds of the Valley build nests, incubate eggs, and raise young. The total number of young that these birds raise often has to do with the amount of rain we have gotten.

Mourning Dove John Brush Quinta Mazatlan

Mourning Doves are one species of bird that has a very long breeding season (sometimes year round!), depending on their location.

I love the breeding season – it is one of the most interesting times of year to watch birds, although I admit that I think every time of year is good for watching birds. Birds are particularly fun to watch in the breeding season because of all the fascinating behaviors you can observe.

Seeing a Great Kiskadee flying back and forth with its bill full of fibrous materials, working so hard to build its large domed nest, is always a treat. The loud calls the pair make as they discuss family business, or the angry “reeks!” and chases that alert a Great-tailed Grackle that it is too close, adds to this birds already potent charisma.

Then, after 2-3 weeks of incubating and a couple more of feeding the young in the nest, the baby birds fledge. Just last week on our regular Tuesday morning bird walk we got to see two different species of fledgling bird! Three Curve-billed Thrasher juveniles were calling softly, keeping their soft brown eyes on us and their parents. A White-eyed Vireo juvenile waited silently and patiently as its parent foraged in the nearby mesquite trees.

Curve-billed Thrasher John Brush Quinta Mazatlan

Juvenile Curve-billed Thrashers have brown/gray eyes, but when they grow up their eyes will turn bright orange.

The breeding season is upon us once again, and I am glad! Keep your eyes open for birds nesting in your yard, and spend some time enjoying the vast array of breeding behaviors that each bird has to offer – you may fall in love with some of our most common, yet beautiful, birds all over again.

Join us for a Bird Walk! Tuesdays (through May) 8:30am-10:00am at Quinta Mazatlan in McAllen, Texas.