Hidden Nests in the Grass and Wetlands

May 12,  9 am

It is with much anticipation that I set out today in hope of finding some nesting birds. For weeks now, it has been apparent that birds are displaying territoriality everywhere I go. The Red- winged blackbirds are the most dramatic with the showing off of their bright red epaulets ((shoulder pads), but the Song sparrows, and Black Phoebes are also doing their best to sing the loudest, or just seem to be acting macho, since It is the males who mostly do all of this noise and posturing.

The Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans is busy singing its chirpy song that has been described as  Tee-hee,  tee-ho.  It is a beautiful sleek, black and white bird that loves to flip and wag its tail up and down. Being a flycatcher, it eats many insects that it catches in the air plus even catches some small fish, since it prefers to live near water. This is a fairly common bird which lives in towns or backyards if there is a riparian area nearby. As I watch this pair on the Outlet creek I notice there is a mud nest on the pump housing where they are flying around. As I near it and use my phone to take a photo in the nest I discover that there are 4 whitish eggs with brown spots. It is apparent that mud has been used to layer the outside of this nest with some grass to create a large cup shaped bowl  lined with finer grassy materials. They often will come back to the same nesting sites year after year. Black phoebes are found along streams or near water from California to Argentina.

The second nest I find is out in the grassland area carefully hidden from viewing. It has been woven into the tall grass stalks from last year with grasses and cattails. Lichen has been added which makes it look quite artistic but it may be that the lichens antiseptic qualities and of course its camouflage value, make it an important addition to this beautiful nest. The bright blue eggs with their spattering of maroon color and its location makes me think this is a Red- winged blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus, nest. In the next moment I see and hear a male Red-winged flying close to me. It is distracting me and proclaiming its territory.These guys have more than one one mate and will protect their areas aggressively by attacking intruders and being real loud if humans are too near. I realize my presence is making the birds nervous so I retreat. As I move away a female Red-winged flies into the nest.

The third nest I find is also in the big clumps of Harding grass, Phalaris aquatica, but it has baby birds in it! I see the mom fly out and know right away it is a song sparrow, Melospiza melodia. This male is also trying to distract and warn me to get away with its chattering and wining sounds. The scientific name of this bird lets you know that it has a beautiful and melodious song. This is also a bird of fields and meadows near water but will be found in thickets, brush, marshes, roadsides, and gardens.Song sparrows mostly eat insects especially in summer but in winter this bird depends heavily on seeds, mainly those of grass and weeds. It forages mostly on the ground and sometimes in shallow water. Because they have small territories the density of nesting birds can be high in  good habitat. This nest is packed with the four babies waiting to be fed. I back away and let the mom and dad get back to their enormous task of feeding these hungry ones.

As I walk back through the fields towards my car I look across the waving grasses and wonder how many nests are out there?How does a species that nests on the ground survive through the spring storms, predators, and the big footed ones such as myself even though I am trying to be careful?