Nesting in Place

It has been a long time since we have gone somewhere out of the county during this time of the year. Usually the pull to travel to other places takes us away, but the garden needs to go in, weeds must be pulled, the grasses mowed, fruit trees pruned, and the house needs a deep cleaning after winter. My body and mind get tired with the things that need to be done and the desire to go out to play somewhere else grows. This time it is different because all of us are sheltering at home, not going too far. Fortunately, we live in beautiful Mendocino County and so being forced to stay here is not so bad. Many of the long-forgotten projects at the bottom of our lists are getting done and we are even enjoying just being home.

For birds, spring is extremely busy. They are staking out their territories by singing their hearts out, finding mates, building or excavating nests, and finding food and water. Once a mate is found, it is all about setting up home and raising young. As we are in our homes more than usual, being safe from the covid-19 around us, it feels like we are also sort of nesting.

One thing that is easy to do from home is to watch birds. Watching birds build nests this time of the year is impressive. Look for a bird with sticks, grass, moss, lichen, and even hair or lint in their beak. Then follow quietly to see where they go. If you are unobtrusive and careful to not scare the parent birds, you can watch the whole process unfold.

In the Willits valley, I watched a pair of Red-tailed hawks bring in branches and twigs to a large cottonwood tree. Some of the branches were discarded, but others were gently placed in a fork about 30 to 40 feet above me. A mixture of green and woody branches added to the design. Then, in a short time, the female Red-tailed hawk hunkered down in the nest and all that I could see of her was her tail. She was there the next day when I visited again. Since incubation is from 28 to 35 days she is going to be there for many more days.

There are several pairs of Red-shouldered hawks nesting in Little Lake Valley and what I notice about their nests is that they are constructed with large masses of lichen dangling all around the edges. It makes this nest less visible than the Red-tailed hawk nest. Once again, the only part of the mother hawk I can see is the black and white striped tail. She is deep inside that nest. Around the oak woodland area on the southwest side of Davis creek, I found another nest way at the top of an ash tree. It is not as big as the other nests and I can just barely see a white fuzzy head sticking up in it. These clues let me know it is a White-tailed kite in her nest. I wonder how safe that nest is located at the top of the tree out in the open. Many times, I have seen these birds fighting off crows or ravens, chasing them away from their territories.

Raptors are large birds which can make their nests easier to spot. Smaller birds are busy building nests too. Keep your eyes open for nesting behavior in your yard or neighborhood, keep track of when you start seeing both parents with food in their mouths for the young. For the small birds it is usually a 12 to 14 day incubation period before they hatch. A Red-shouldered hawk, which is a large bird, has an incubation time of 42 to 49 days before its eggs hatch. The eggs must be protected during the entire development process and both parents must eat!

Birds nest in all sorts of places such as eaves, door jams, on top of posts, and many will nest on the ground. Look around and see what you can find and enjoy watching the birds.