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!

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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 1st, 2013

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

Hello,

I had the new staff members, a couple of bright-eyed boys with their mom, and a pleasant couple from out of town join me for the bird walk this morning.

Great Tailed Grackle Juvenile Quinta Mazatlan John Brush

As I walked up to work this morning, I couldn’t help but observe a family of Great-tailed Grackles fussing about in the anacahuitas above the cactus garden. This is a juvenile Great-tailed Grackle – both the males and female juveniles resemble adult female grackles.

Green Parakeet Quinta Mazatlan John Brush

The group got to spend some quality time with a pair of Green Parakeets. We first saw them in the amphitheater area, but then ran into them again later along the Ebony Grove trail. They might have been eating mesquite pods, and we saw them go up to a palm tree, possibly checking out a cavity.

Clay Colored Thrush Quinta Mazatlan John Brush

I got to show a few people this Clay-colored Thrush sitting on its nest. The nest is on a horizontal branch in a Live Oak tree near the courtyard. The bird is obviously quite hot, panting to help cool down!

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