Unusually warm winter a boon to avians too | WHIDBEY BIRDING

Aren’t these 60-degree February days amazing? As our weather warms, some of our feathered friends are beginning their spring breeding cycle. The resident Anna’s hummingbirds are some of the earliest of our nesting birds. I had several reports of these birds engaged in courtship behavior during our bright, snowy days last month. Resident juncos, chickadees, nuthatches and towhees will be following soon.

A male dark-eyed junco gathers materials for a nest Jan. 2. The females of the species assemble the nests.

Aren’t these 60-degree February days amazing? As our weather warms, some of our feathered friends are beginning their spring breeding cycle.

The resident Anna’s hummingbirds are some of the earliest of our nesting birds. I had several reports of these birds engaged in courtship behavior during our bright, snowy days last month. Resident juncos, chickadees, nuthatches and towhees will be following soon.

Craig Johnson photographed this male dark-eyed junco on Jan. 2. The male of this species gathers materials and the female assembles the nest.

Recently my husband and I met up with some friends from South Carolina for a birding trip and I heard an amazing story about one bird that nests in their garden on Spring Island in the southeastern part of the state.

The events began in late March of 2007, when Nona was sitting quietly on her deck reading. A tufted titmouse, a common greyish bird of the eastern United States, which is about the size of a chickadee, flew to the deck railing and began to eye her. The bird flitted to the back of her rocking chair and paused there for a moment before landing right on top of her head. It surprised her, but she managed to remain calm.

The bird began pecking at Nona’s long blondish-gray hair. A bird lover through and through, Nona sat still and let the bird collect bits of hair right from her head. For the next two days, as she quietly read in the morning, the titmouse returned and gathered more strands of her hair.

I kid you not; Nona showed me a selfie video she took with the titmouse pulling at strands of her hair.

Each spring for the following eight years (with only one year’s interruption) a titmouse, she can’t be sure it’s the same one, returns to gather nesting materials from Nona’s head. The bird won’t come near if her husband is outside on the deck, but he’s managed to take photos from inside the kitchen.

Even during the year when Nona was recovering from cancer and wore a wig, the titmouse returned and pecked at the wig in the same way it had gathered her real hair. From research on this species, Nona learned that they often target living mammals to gather fur and hair.

Of course we don’t have this species in the West, our weather would prohibit sitting outside in early spring, and I would not expect anyone to be as calm and patient as Nona. Yet, we can offer nesting materials to our Whidbey birds.

Those early nesting Anna’s hummingbirds look for dried grass, which they bind together with spider webs. The elasticity of the spider webs allows the nest to expand as the babies grow.

Since finding dry grass or the soft fluff of seed heads is difficult in our wet weather, you might want to hang materials outside for the birds to discover. Brushings from pets or strands from your hairbrush are possibilities.

You can cram all these bits and pieces into a mesh bag, or an empty suet feeder. Or stop by a wild bird supply store and purchase nesting materials.

I hang my offerings near where the birds frequent my seed feeders. I position them in a dry place well under the eaves but also where I can watch the birds arrive and claim their selections.

If this weather continues, we’ll be able to enjoy more and more bird breeding activity this month. Even if winter returns, singing, courtship, nest building and nestlings will follow soon.

Frances Wood can be reached at wood@whidbey.com. Craig Johnson is at Craigjohnson@whidbey.com.

 

More in Life

Congolese Festival is a chance to celebrate, educate

Last event before Northwest Cultural Center relocates

Mucking about for clams

‘Digging for Dinner’ a popular Sound Water activity

Scorch is a play about gender identification showing at Outcast’s black box theater on the Island County fairgrounds June 13-17. It’s a one-person play, performed by Carmen Berkeley. Director and co-producer Ty Molbak went to middle school in Langley was was active in Whidbey Children’s Theater. Both will be seniors at Rutgers University in the fall. One scene in the play “Scorch” portrays the main character looking into mirrors and wondering what others see.
‘Scorch’ looks at first love and ‘gender fraud’

Irish play revolves around one character’s confusion

Whidbey Island Garden Tour highlights five homes

Tickets still available for Saturday event

Jordan Shelley, 18, stands outside his home in Greenbank. He recently received the Sydney S. McIntyre Jr Scholarship from Skagit Valley College to go toward his tuition at the University of Washington. Shelley will pursue his childhood dream of becoming a doctor. Photo by Laura Guido/Whidbey News Group
SVC grad earns full 2-year scholarship to UW

A lot has changed since Jordan Shelley was 7 years old and… Continue reading

Couple creates Whidbey’s first commercial cidery

Driftwood Hard Cider taps into growing market

‘Slowgirl’ explores the human condition in intimate setting

Even with significant professional credentials, the latest offering from Whidbey’s Outcast Theatre… Continue reading

Homegrown ‘Frijole Friday’

Fundraiser features student crops, cooking

Scott Swenson, a National Park Service carpenter, puts the final pieces in on a ramp on the newly restored Pratt Sheep Barn. The 1930s barn will serve as a classroom one it officially opens in July. Photo by Laura Guido/Whidbey News Group
Historic sheep barn repurposed

Tucked away on the Pratt Loop Trail, a formerly dilapidated 1930s sheep… Continue reading

‘Art with a Message’

Students worldview a kaleidoscope of visions

Hometown Hero: Lewis Pope

Once every year a South Whidbey senior is chosen by the South… Continue reading

Shhh…it’s a surprise party for old-timer Bill Lanning

Friends, customers invited to celebrate former owner of Bill’s Feed Tack