Vireos, blue jays and loons
By Kate Crowley
There is nothing more satisfying and rewarding for a writer than to hear from someone who read something you’ve written and enjoyed it. It is rare to get this kind of feedback, and maybe that is what makes it all the more special. Over the past 20 plus years I have written hundreds of articles for the local newspapers, hoping to both entertain and educate readers about nature, whether that be birds, bugs or boreal forests (and everything in between or within). Sometimes the feedback includes personal stories or experiences which I enjoy hearing too.
This past week, I stopped in at T&M Sports and owner Tom Brabec asked about our bluebirds. This meant he had read my most recent article. This led Tom to tell me about the bluebirds that had nested at his lake place and how the nest had fallen out of the box (after he had already replaced it once). When it fell out the second time, the young birds, who were apparently ready to fledge, took off; all except one, who struggled a bit, then finally got airborne. Tom said he and his wife spent the next five hours sitting in lawn chairs being entertained by the antics of these young birds and their attentive parents. There was a strong gusty wind on this day and the new flyers had their work cut out for them.
He had wondered when the nest fell out whether he should pick the birds up to put them back in the nest. I’m not sure when or why this myth got started, but I regularly try to debunk it. Birds cannot smell and handling their young or eggs will not cause them to abandon either. People who band birds for research often take the young out of the nest and put a band on their legs (which reach full size before the wings) and put them back in the nest, with no harm done. So, if you ever find a young bird on the ground, look around and try to find the nest it fell out of. If it’s too high up in a tree, find a small bowl – empty frozen whipped topping containers work well – and put some dried grass in it, then put the bird in it and try to put it back up in the tree. The goal is to get the young bird off the ground and safe from predators. The parents will almost always find their chick and take care of it. Trying to feed and care for a nestling can be near to impossible; best to give them a second chance and leave it up to nature.
Tom shared another story with a happy ending. In this case, it had to do with a lost little loon on their lake. The adult pair had two chicks, but one got separated from the family during high waves. It washed up on the shore across the lake and the people who found it also worried about handling it. They called the DNR and were told to pick it up and do their best to return it to the family. Tom and his family were on the lake watching the loon family when a boat came racing towards them. They were afraid that the boat would run right into the loons, but instead it slowed and they watched as the people lowered the baby into the water. The two adult loons saw this and began to vocalize in different tones, obviously recognizing their youngster. The baby however, didn’t seem to want to leave the protection of the boat. One of the adults began to swim toward the baby and then it started swimming away from the boat. Soon the family was reunited and Tom said it appeared to be an emotional and tender moment for these beautiful birds.
These stories were told with such obvious pleasure and awe. We both agreed that there are so many amazing events taking place in nature around us all the time, but it requires our attention and patience.
Just last week Mike and I discovered that a pair of red-eyed vireos is none too happy with the blue jays that visit our feeders. It happened one morning when through our bedroom window I heard a bird sound I didn’t recognize. I got up and looked out at the feeder down below. There sat a blue jay gulping sunflower seeds. All of a sudden a bird half its size shot out of a nearby tree and buzzed the back of the jay. When the jay flew to a branch the little bird zipped after it. I told Mike about this and from our deck we watched the same behavior being repeated.
In between attacks and the “squeee” sound, the vireos would resume their normal, repetitive call of ‘vireo, vireo’. This continued throughout the day and into the early evening. We saw that it was not just one, but two vireos harassing the jays, who really didn’t seem to be overly concerned. A week later, they’re still doing it and now when we watch we can hear their little beaks snap as they skim past the bigger bird. We figured there had to be a vireo nest somewhere nearby, but we have not been able to find it. Blue jays are known to take eggs or chicks out of nests and the other birds know this and so the aggressive defensive behavior makes sense.
Every day I am reminded of our good fortune to live on these 20 acres of semi-wild land, where nature provides us with endless entertainment and education. Wherever you live, I hope you will share in our enthusiasm for the stories being woven in the trees and gardens around your home.