The Nature Writers of Texas

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Sunday, July 27, 2003

July Brings Changes to our Yard Birds
Ro Wauer, July 27, 2003, The Victoria Advocate, © 2003

It seems that only yesterday our Neotropical migrants were arriving and beginning to court their mates. But now, here it is only half way through summer, and many of those same species already are beginning their southward migration. In fact, the purple martins that nested in my martin house from April to June are gone. Those large swallows left my yard a couple weeks ago, but others are gathering together at various sites, preparing for their long journeys back to their wintering grounds in South America.

Many of the other Neotropical species are still present. Two of the more obvious ones are cliff swallows and chimney swifts. The cliff swallow colonies present at our highway overpasses are still on-site, and their numbers have, in most cases, more than doubled since the youngsters are out and about. Chimney swift young are also out of the nests, learning hunting techniques from their parents. Their presence in chimneys are far less obvious now that they are no longer being fed by their parents. The ruckus created at feeding time by a nest-full of baby chimney swifts can be suprisingly loud for such small small birds.

Most of our full-time resident birds have also completed their nesting, and yards are filled with strange looking birds. Examples include the northern cardinal youngsters that, although they are the same size as their parents, can be difficult to tell if one is a male or female. And they seem so unsure of themselves, not yet able to balance well, and constantly begging for food. And many of the adults, being long-suffering parents, continue to shove food into their wide-open bills. Even an occasional brown-headed cowbird, probably raised by cardinal foster parents, have not yet learned the truth about its real parents.

Several other summertime birds, finished with their nesting activities, are utilizing our yards, coming to handouts or searching for food among the vegetation. Full-time residents include Carolina chickadees, tufted titmice, Carolina and Bewick's wrens, northern mockingbirds, blue jays, white-winged and Inca doves, and buff-bellied hummingbirds. Summertime only yard birds include ruby-throated and black-chinned hummingbirds, yellow-billed cuckoos, great crested flycatchers, blue-gray gnatcatchers, and painted buntings. These latter species should be heading south before too long.

July also brings a few southbound migrants into our area. Although it may seem unlikely, a few northern hummingbirds occasionally pass through our area, and some may even stay for a few days. One of the earliest of these is the little rufous hummingbird. Males are easily identified by their bright rufous color, so different from the three summer hummers, the ruby-throated, black-chinned and buff-bellied. Three other Western hummers - calliope, broad-tailed and Anna's - are not totally unexpected in the fall.

The major fall migration period doesn't really get underway until mid- to late August. But so many of the northern birds, such as some of the hummingbirds as well as some shorebirds, begin to pass through our area much earlier. Most of these early southbound migrants are males. For many bird species, males spend much of their post-breeding periods with other males in bachelor parties. Those species leave the majority of the rearing of young strictly to the female. And so those particular males begin their migration long before the female and young are ready.

Birds truly have a varied lifestyle. But that diversity is what watching birds so fascinating. Which of our abundant southbound migrants will make their first appearance?

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