The weather continued to be variable this week which was nice for us. Lots of very cool mornings, a smattering of clouds and showers and even some calm conditions. Most migration is over and the only birds we see passing overhead are the occasional cedar waxwing and American goldfinch.
Just because birds are no longer moving, though, doesn’t mean that we aren’t still seeing birds. All the species that breed in the area are hard at work making the most of the brief boreal summer they flew so far to get to. Some species are still staking out territories, like the mourning warbler and alder flycatcher, others are building nests, like Canada warbler and common yellowthroat, many are laying eggs, like black-and-white warbler, Lincoln’s sparrow and white-throated sparrow and some are incubating and awaiting the day their eggs hatch like American robin and tree swallow.
Summer is a busy time for migratory songbirds. It is their one chance all year to reproduce and compared to resident birds and mammals they have very little time. Upon arrival the males start singing loudly to stake a claim on a desirable piece of habitat. There can be lots of fighting between males to make sure they got the best possible patch of forest. The females arrive a little bit later than the males and just like them they will fight each other over the best male who holds the best territory. With all the territory business sorted, the female birds begin building nests while the males continue to protect the territory from would be usurpers. Unlike raptors that will reuse a nest, songbirds always build a fresh one. After building the female will lay an egg a day until she has between four and five and then she will incubate for 1-2 weeks. Then the really busy times comes when the male and female work together to feed and raise a brood of ever-hungry chicks. Thanks to their tireless parents, songbird chicks grow at a remarkable pace. Most species reach their full adult size in less than two weeks and then they are off on their own and migrating by the time they are a month old.
With only the breeders around it is not surprising that banding has continued to be slow. We are now at 573 birds banded, which means unless we can catch 53 birds in the next four days, this year will be the second slowest spring in the history of the LSLBO. Despite low daily banding totals we did get one very exciting capture, a female three-toed woodpecker, a species that has only ever been captured once before at the LSLBO. Three-toed woodpecker are a fairly dark woodpecker that live year-round in very mature, coniferous forest that have an abundance of snags. They can be found further north than any other woodpecker species, all the way up to northern Alaska. But what really makes them neat is they only have three toes! Something very unusual in the bird world. Most three-toed bird species are water birds and even they generally have a nub of a fourth toe. The three-toed woodpecker truly has no fourth toe at all.
Female American three-toed woodpecker