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Fledglings start to spread their wings

By Robert Tougias

Publication: The Day

Published July 05. 2013 4:00AM

A new sound is about to ring out throughout the trees. It is the call of hunger and bewilderment. It will supplant the clear magnificence of early morning bird song and will grow louder and stronger throughout the summer. It even may become incessant, but this sound is the bright promise of tomorrow.

It is the sound of fledgling birds gaining strength and demanding food from their busy parents. July is the month when most of our common birds begin the phase of raising their offspring and getting them ready for independence.

In the weeks ahead you may even witness these young birds as they follow their parents to your feeders. Each sighting will provide an opportunity to observe specific behavior at this busy time of year. I always find it fascinating because each species has a different experience raising their brood.

Blue jays, for example, take the prize for being the most overprotective parents. They stay right with the fledglings and watch their every move. Likewise, the young jays seem to be the most demanding. Their cries can be heard all through the summer. In fact, the parents continue to feed them even in September when they appear full grown.

Hairy woodpeckers, on the other hand, disperse from their parents quickly. The young are strong flyers upon leaving the nest, and they learn to find food in just a few weeks. They then leave their parents to establish themselves in distant woodlands.

Chickadees are independent just 26 days after hatching. They feed themselves only 10 days after they leave the nest cavity. The parents often drive them away if they linger too long.

When you see chickadees at your suet feeder listen for the "phoebeee" call, which is only given by the male during this time. It is an indication his offspring are somewhere close by, waiting to be fed. I think it is interesting how dedicated some male birds are to their fledglings. Male cardinals, for instance, take responsibility for feeding the fledglings because the females are already preparing for their second brood. Male robins behave this way, too.

A few days ago, I witnessed a downy woodpecker bring its brood out of the woods and onto the hopper feeder to feast on suet. The young birds didn't seem to know what suet was. The mother fed a few morsels to each fledgling, and still it took them several minutes before they chiseled away at the blocks.

So, now is a good time to learn more about the young lives of your favorite birds by watching closely. Keep your feeders well supplied with suet, grape jelly, peanut butter and meal worms. This will entice entire families into full view for observation. These birds are getting into the development stage, similar to our teenage years and that, of course, means there never will be a dull moment.

Robert Tougias is a birding author based in Colchester. He is available to answer your questions at rtougias@snet.net

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