Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Courtship and Nesting has Begun

It is only mid-January but already our local avifauna are giving us signs that the nesting season is not far off. Northern cardinals start singing this month. During bad weather they may be silent but on sunny days you should be able to hear the clear whistled peer peer purdy purdy purdy of the males. They know now is the time to set territorial boundaries and attract suitable females. Woodpeckers of several species are using different techniques to accomplish the same end. Last week I heard a pileated woodpecker giving its loud and distinctive drum roll along the Lower McAlpine Greenway behind Pike’s Nursery.
Great horned owls have already taken care of that business. If you have a pair in your neighborhood you should be hearing them hooting back and forth at dawn and dusk. The faster, higher pitched hoots belong to the males. The females give much a deeper, slower series of hoots. The nest sites are already picked out and there may be eggs already.
I have gotten a few recent reports of bald eagle activity around the Piper Glen area of Rea Road, and I have seen some adults there on a couple of occasions. Last year a pair produced a single chick in the area, and I suspect they are refurbishing the nest and will have chicks again this year. Like the great horned owls, they are early nesters and may already be on some eggs.
If you live near some open weedy fields bordered by hardwood or mixed pine forest try listening for the courtship display of the American woodcock. The males are in full display right now. At dusk and dawn, the males give a repeated nasal peent call, then launch themselves into the air, spiraling upward with a peculiar whirring sound of the wings. At the zenith of their ascent they give a chirping sound as they rapidly shoot back down to earth. After a few seconds the entire process is repeated.

I am sure there will be more cold temperatures and nasty weather that will temporarily halt these early season activities, but once the weather calms the activity will pick up stronger than before.  

Woodpeckers are starting to drum on noisy sources now. Hollow tree trunks, metal surfaces, etc. are all utilized. Birders can tell the species of woodpecker by the rhythm and volume of the drumming.
Pileated Woodpecker by Phil Fowler

Bald eagles will be nesting soon back in the Piper Glen area it looks like. This photo, taken through a spotting scope last year shows an adult on the right with the almost-fully- grown chick on the left.
Bald Eagles by Carol Jackson

Great horned owls are likely already on nests in our area. this photo  was taken a couple of years ago at Colonel Francis Beatty Park.
Great Horned Owl by Phil Fowler

American woodcock are giving their courtship displays in earnest right now, at dawn and dusk.
American Woodcock by Ron Clark

Northern cardinals are staring to sing and set up nesting territories now.
Northern Cardinal by Ron Clark