Categories
Bird Behaviors

How Do Birds Mate?

Kingfishers Mating
Image by Jonus Weng Via Flickr.

Backtrack to 1999, arguably one of the best decades for music, and you may remember a song by Bloodhound Gang? 

I spent many a day blindly singing “do it like they do on the discovery channel”. 

Of course, back then I didn’t really know what the phrase meant. 

Fast forward 25 years and, well, need I say more?

The song, unfiltered though it may be, refers to the intimacy of sex; in its own animated perspective. 

It shouldn’t be a shock. Most animals have sex; or, to be scientifically correct, mate. It’s a way of reproducing and passing on genes. 

But not every animal group exhibits the same mating behaviors. 

This article aims to explore the unique world of how birds mate.

Evolution of Bird Mating 

To understand how birds mate, we need to first travel back in time. Over 120 million years ago, to the late Jurassic period. 

During this time, one group of reptiles dominated the land – the dinosaurs. 

These egg-laying reptiles had a specific anatomical feature that facilitated egg laying – the cloaca. 

Obviously something worked with the cloaca because, fast-forward to the present day, and birds still use their cloaca in much the same way as their reptilian ancestors would have. 

The Function of the Cloaca

The cloaca. 

We’ve just found out that dinosaurs used to have one. 

But what exactly is it? What does it do?

What is a Cloaca?

The cloaca is a multifunctional opening found in birds, reptiles, amphibians and even some mammals. 

It is an opening for the digestive, reproductive and urinary tracts, found just below the tail. 

The Cloaca of a Wagtail
Image by Tim Melling via Flickr.

Function of a Cloaca 

The cloaca has multiple functions – the ejection of feces, urine, eggs and sperm.

Unlike mammals, which often have external genitalia in the form of a penis (male) and vagina (female), the sexual anatomy of birds is remarkably different. 

Sexing birds from the exterior alone poses quite a challenge, as both males and females possess a cloaca. 

The structure of the cloaca in both males and females are similar. However, during the bird mating season, many males may see an increase in the size of their cloaca. In some instances, this size increase can mean the male cloaca often protrudes from the body. Scientists have hypothesized that this may help with sperm transmission via deep insemination. 

Some species, such as the inca dove, use their cloaca for unconventional methods. 

Their native range of Central and South America can get hot. However, like most other bird species, Inca doves cannot sweat to cool down. 

The solution? 

As an emergency tactic for thermoregulation, the Inca dove can use their cloaca to actively cool themselves down. 

By exposing, and I can’t believe I’m writing this, the moist lining of their cloaca to the air, enough water is evaporated to regulate their temperature. Strange.  

Do Birds Have Penises?

Most birds have a cloaca. We’ve established that.

But what has happened to the penis? Do birds even have penises?

Astonishingly, upwards of 97% of known bird species do not have a penis. However, that still leaves 3% of bird species with a penis, right?

We’ll come back to these 3% later. 

First, let’s look at penisless birds. What happened?

After a lot of research, scientists have discovered that many bird species possess a specific protein that suppresses the growth of genitalia during development. 

There are many speculations as to why. 

Perhaps females actively selected males with a smaller penis. By choosing males with smaller phalli, a female can gain more control over reproduction. A potential way to counter the prolific rate of infamous duck raping behavior. Again, more on that shortly.

Other theories suggest the loss of genitalia is a side effect of other changes within a birds’ body. Proteins that control feather and beak shape may have influenced the lack of development in other areas. 

Who knew penises could be so complicated?

How Birds Mate

Now that we have an understanding of the anatomical features used by birds to mate, let’s take a look at the nitty gritty of how a bird actually mates. 

Courtship 

Northern Cardinal Courtship
Image by David Hawkins via Flickr.

First up, courtship. 

A form of communication, courtship displays in birds are a way to signal their readiness to mate. 

Across much of the bird world, it is the males that perform intricate courtship displays; either in the form of dance, color or noise. 

The purpose?

Well, to impress a female. Simple as. 

Female birds invest a lot of energy in producing and incubating eggs, as well as raising chicks. They need to be sure that the partner they choose will produce healthy offspring. 

Birds-of-paradise, for example, use brightly colored plumage to court a female. Males with less colorful feathers may be suffering from stress-induced illnesses, such as increased parasite loads. 

Other species, such as the Northern mockingbird, use songs as a form of courtship. Males that can perform more song variations are likely to mate with more females. To a female, a male that has a range of vocalizations shows longevity and experience of raising chicks. 

The Cloacal Kiss

Right. A male has impressed a female. He’s in. 

What’s next?

Well, this is where the cloaca comes in. 

For the vast majority of known bird species, after some form of courtship (behaviors to attract the opposite sex) the male mounts the back of a female. 

Lark Sparrows Mating
Image by Jerry Ting via Flickr.

With the back of the female slightly arched, and any tail feathers moved aside, the cloacas of the two sexes meet. The connection of the cloacas, romantically referred to as the ““cloacal kiss”, allows for sperm to be deposited from the male to the female. 

Scientists studying the intimate world of bird sex predict that just 1-2% of sperm make it into the female. Because of this, it isn’t uncommon for birds to “kiss” multiple times in a given session.  

So, although the cloacal kiss itself lasts mere seconds, the act of balancing atop of one another, and the multiple mating attempts, means that some bird matings can last up to a week to increase fertilization success. 

Once sperm has been transferred, the act of internal fertilization – the fusing of sperm and egg inside the female’s body – can begin. 

What Happens After Birds Mate?

After birds mate, sometimes a male will leave. He will have no further input in nesting or raising chicks. 

However, many bird species are monogamous. A male and female will remain together – either for the duration of a breeding season or a lifetime. 

Together, they will take turns feeding chicks until the chicks are old enough to leave the nest.

Birds With Penises

I said I’d come back to it. 

How could I not?

Just 3%, or approximately 300 species, of birds have a penis – or, technically speaking, a phallus (this sexual structure evolved independently to the mammalian penis, so cannot be called as such). 

The males of two groups of birds, ratites (ostriches and emus) and waterfowl (ducks and geese), have long and flexible phalli that emerge from their cloacas during mating. 

Let’s take a look.

Waterfowl 

Unassuming though they may look, do not be fooled. 

Some ducks, such as the lake duck, have a tentacle-like phallus as long as their entire body – sometimes reaching half a meter in length. 

Wood Ducks Mating
Image by Matthew Studebaker via Flickr.

Other ducks, such as the Muscovy duck, have equally impressive genitalia – up to 40 cm long.

But why so big?

Well, like many other birds, female Muscovies choose their mates based on his courtship and plumage displays. However, males that fail to live up to the females standards don’t simply give up. 

Having a long, and flexible, sexual appendage helps males force copulation on unwilling females. And, to speed things up, a male duck can obtain an erection, or eversion, in just a third of a second.

To overcome this, female ducks have evolved a labyrinth of twists, turns and dead-ends within her vagina to prevent unwanted fertilization. An ongoing evolutionary arms race of the sexes. 

Ratites 

The ratites are a group of flightless birds that include ostriches, emus, rheas and kiwis. 

Like ducks, all male ratites have a phallus. 

Unlike waterfowl, however, which have a corkscrew-shaped phallus, the phallus of a ratite is conical in shape. 

However, not all ratites share the same size phallus. 

Take the ostrich. When mating, the male male will allow the flow of lymphatic fluid into the phallus, increasing their size from 20 cm to a whooping 40 cm. 

For the record, and to keep us guys from getting too disheartened, the average human penis is in the 12 cm – 17 cm range. No shame, fellas. 

However, scientists have discovered that there is a strong correlation between genital size and bird mating habits. Ratite species that pair bond, such as emus, have smaller phalluses, compared to their more promiscuous, and well-endowed cousins, the rheas. 

Final Thoughts 

Heron Courtship
Image by Pedro Lastra via Flickr.

Bird mating is intricate. 

From complex courtship displays to brief cloacal kisses, there is more to bird mating than meets the eyes. 

And then there’s the phalluses. The rape. The passages that lead to nowhere. 

The world of avian mating is an interesting one, albeit a bit strange. Best we’d leave it to the experts. 

Categories
Social

Keeping Up with the Kestrels 2024: Hatching Eggs

The Female Kestrel Broods the Chicks
Image by Nest Box Live.

Welcome back to another feather-ruffling update from our live-streamed kestrel nest in Blackpool, UK! It’s been a couple of weeks since our last update and our kestrels have been busy. The devoted kestrel mum has been playing egg-sitter extraordinaire, tending to a precious clutch of five eggs since April 23rd. With an average incubation period of 28-29 days, we had our calendars marked for the big hatching around May 21st.

For those of you following the action live or via our Facebook page, you might have caught the exhilarating moment when the eggs started hatching.

Cracking the Egg-citement

Let’s rewind to the morning of May 20th. The predicted hatching date was approaching and our eyes were glued to the nest for any signs of egg-citement.

The Female Kestrel Spots a Hole in an Egg
Image by Nest Box Live.

Sharp-eyed viewers may have spotted a tiny hole appearing in one of the eggs around 8 am. The first crack in an egg is known as the ‘pip hole’. The chick uses its ‘egg tooth,’ a hard horn-like projection on its beak, to make this hole and eventually chip itself out of the egg. After spotting the pip hole, we knew chick number one was on its way!

Our kestrel mum, ever vigilant, noticed the first signs of life. She helped by delicately expanding the hole with her beak. She continued incubating and around an hour later when she shuffled around, we could see the first chick had made its way completely out of the egg.

What a sight a newly-hatched kestrel chick is! Initially, their white downy feathers are wet and matted, revealing their tiny pink bodies. However, as the hours pass, the feathers dry and fluff up, transforming them into irresistibly adorable fluff balls.

The first chick had just an hour of solo time before being joined by chick number two. Excitement was mounting! Shortly after, the female kestrel took a brief break and proud papa kestrel swooped in to meet his fuzzy offspring for the first time.

Newly Hatched Kestrel Chicks
Image by Nest Box Live.

Lunch is Served on the Kestrel Nest

Chick number three made a grand entrance just after noon, perfectly timed for lunch! As soon as they are born, the chicks open their beaks to expose their gape (the inside of their mouth). This signals to mum that its feeding time. The nutrients from eating their way out of the egg can sustain them for a couple of days, but the chicks want to get as much food as they can at this crucial point in their lives.

Luckily for these food-begging chicks, dad had caught a nice, plump mouse. Mum wasted no time in serving up a feast fit for fledglings. She meticulously tore the flesh into bite-sized pieces, ensuring each chick got their share. Satisfied and full, the chicks quickly drifted off into a cozy food coma.

The Last Two Chicks Arrive

With three healthy chicks nestled in the nest, things were looking great. But what about the last two eggs? Were they going to hatch?

The evening of May 20th came, and our kestrel female settled in for her first night brooding the new arrivals and the remaining two eggs. Kestrel mothers keep their nestlings warm until they develop enough feathers to regulate their own body heat, typically around 10 days after hatching.

Morning brought a delightful surprise—the arrival of kestrel chick number four! The day followed with the four new chicks and the one unhatched egg huddled together under mum. At 10 am the day after, we were delighted to see chick five had hatched.

A complete hatching triumph, and we couldn’t be happier for these feathered parents.

First Few Days of Kestrel Chicks’ Lives

The chicks spent the first few days of their lives being introduced to typical British weather… rain, and lots of it. This posed challenges for both us, trying to peer through raindrops on the camera, and the kestrels. Kestrels avoid hunting in the rain, as prey is less active and harder to spot. However, whenever the rain slowed or stopped for a while, food was still brought into the nest and the chicks were fed.

The Male Kestrel Brings Food for the Nest
Image by Nest Box Live.

Although the male kestrel is not often seen on the cameras, rest assured he is doing his role in raising the chicks. He is the sole hunter at this point in the nestlings’ lives, as mum kestrel needs to spend most of her time brooding them. You may have seen the female kestrel leave for a few minutes from the nest and return back with an often-headless meal. This would have been caught by dad and exchanged by the parents on a perch nearby the nest. We’ve noticed he frequently eats the head off the prey before sharing.

The chicks have been fed solely small mammals so far, and mainly voles, which are the preferred prey of kestrels.

The Latest on the Nest (27/5)

The Kestrel Chicks A Few Days After Hatching
Image by Nest Box Live.

You look away for a moment, and the chicks double in size! It’s now around a week since the first egg hatched. The chicks are unrecognizable since they first emerged from their eggs. Although still fluff-ball-esque, they are stronger and can hold the weight of their heads up more easily. The parents are keeping the chicks well-fed, and mum is still ripping apart the meals for the chicks into bite-sized chunks. These chunks will get bigger as the chicks do, and we’ve even witnessed kestrel chicks in previous years swallowing prey whole!

Kestrel chicks typically fledge after around four weeks, so get ready for some action-packed weeks ahead on the nest. Follow along with the livestream and keep your eyes peeled for the next blog update!

Categories
Travel

The Top 10 Birding Trails in North America

Elegant trogans can be spotted on the Southeastern Arizona Birding Trail
Image by Kristofer Drozd via Flickr.

The United States of America has dramatically varied landscapes. From the heavily forested north to the parched dry deserts of the south, these unique habitats create exciting opportunities for bird watchers.

There are numerous birding trails across America, however choosing which one to head out on can be daunting. Each state has a variety of interesting trails, with many offering the chance to see rare or state-specific birds.

Whether you are a resident of the USA, or are on holiday there, one of the easiest ways to find the best birding trails in your area is to search for ‘birding trails near me’, or to speak to your local parks department.

For the best trails in North America however, continue reading to find the top 10 best birding trails in the country. 

1. Colonial Coast Birding Trail, Georgia

One of the best trails for bird watching in North America is the Colonial Coast Birding Trail in Georgia.

Along the trail it is possible to see around 300 species of birds across its numerous sites.

The birds found along the Colonial Coast Birding Trail are often migratory, giving you a great deal of variety throughout the year. 

When walking along look out for bald eagles, sanderlings and endangered wood storks. 

2. Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail, Virginia

Visit Piedmont region for indigo buntings
Image by Jerry Ting via Flickr.

Take on one of Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail’s 65 loop walks to see some of the most impressive wildlife in this state.

The birdwatching walks here offer an excellent opportunity to see some of the areas 400-plus species of birds, as well as a range of mammals, amphibians and insects.

Take on one of the mountain trails for opportunities to see warblers, owls and migrating hawks.

Visit Piedmont region for wild turkeys, indigo buntings and meadowlarks.

Spend some time in the coastal region to see bald eagles, shorebirds and flocks of migrating songbirds. 

3. The Great Florida Birding Trail, Florida

The Great Florida Birding Trail is one of the best places in Northern America for birding as there are more than 500 birding trails available. 

There are a number of wild areas along the route including North Jupiter Woods and the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse Outstanding Natural Area where warblers and waders make their home.

There are also many wildlife sanctuaries, parks and wetlands filled with snowy egrets, spoonbills and belted kingfishers. 

4. Pine to Prairie Birding Trail, Minnesota

One of the most extensive trails on this list is the Pine to Prairie Birding Trail in Minnesota.

This follows a 200 mile (321.87 kilometres) of land in Minnesota, before crossing the order into Canada and taking on another 300 miles (482.8 kilometres).

Along this route in Minnesota are 51 designated sites to watch birds set within outstandingly beautiful surroundings.

During your time on the Pine to Prairie, you may see some rare and unique species including Northern Goshawk, Greater Prairie-Chicken and Snowy Owls. 

5. Creole Nature Trail, Louisiana

Roseate spoonbills can be found on the Creole Nature trail
Image by David B. Adams via Flickr.

Creole Nature trail is another excellent destination for birdwatching. 

The trail spans 180 miles (289.68 kilometres) and winds its way through Louisiana’s outback region.

Here you may find beautiful birds from 400 species including raptors, wading birds and the distinctive rose-pink Roseate Spoonbill. 

Spend some time in the Sabine National Wildlife Refuge to head out onto the marsh itself for a better chance to see many of the marsh birds in their natural habitats.

This trail is also one of the best in North America for families thanks to its accessible nature, extensive picnic areas and education opportunities for children to learn more about wildlife.

6. The Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail, Texas

The Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail is a popular birdwatching destination in this southern state.

The trail is consists of popular and well-known sites sitting alongside hidden gems, allowing you the best opportunities to see rare and interesting species.

The Great Texas Coastal route features 11 different hiking loops taking in popular areas frequented by migratory birds, as well as those who live in the state year round.

Venture along the Texan Loop for a chance to see the Tufted Titmouse, Wood Ducks and Red-shouldered Hawk.

7. Central Coast Birding Trail, Central California

Yellow-rumped warbler, a bird to spot along the Central Coast Birding Trail.
Image by Jim Moodie via Flickr.

Enjoy sunshine and birding in equal measure along the Central Coast Birding Trail in sunny California.

The trail here offers up the chance to see red-tailed hawks and yellow-rumped warblers, along with cormorants and plenty of gulls along the coastal tracks. 

The landscape varies, from rugged coastal cliffs to thick woodland and dry canyons, offering plenty of habitats for a variety of species. 

8. Lake Champlain Birding Trail, New York and Vermont

Spanning 300 miles (482.8 kilometres) of both New York and Vermont, with 88 designated birdwatching sites, the Lake Champlain Birding Trail is also an excellent destination.

The trail spans the shoreline of Lake Champlain and offers visitors many opportunities to see some unique species.

You may find migrating ring-necked ducks and hooded mergansers.

In summer look out for bohemian waxwings and rough-legged hawks.

9. Southeastern Arizona Birding Trail, Arizona

50 of the best birdwatching walks in Arizona can be found along the Southeastern Arizona Birding Trail

The area is full of life during the summer months as birds such as elegant trogons and hummingbirds seek the warmer temperatures of the state.

Despite this boom in activity during summer, the winter also brings many species to this birdwatching route.

Admire colourful American goldfinch and the vibrant northern cardinal, or seek out the Common Poorwills and mourning doves. 

10. Osamequin Nature Trails and Bird Sanctuary, Rhode Island

Spot black-capped chickadees on the Osamequin Nature Trails and Bird Sanctuary, Rhode Island.
Image by Jerry Ting via Flickr.

Enjoy birding in Rhode Island at Osamequin Nature Trails and Bird Sanctuary. 

The trail winds from the western shore of Barrington River and its Hundred Acre Cove. 

There are 50 important coastal marshes along the way that provide vital habitats for a range of species of birds.

Look out for a wide variety of birds including tree swallows in spring, Canada goose, and black-capped chickadees. 

Categories
Garden & Outdoors

How to Attract Hummingbirds to Your Backyard

There’s nothing like the flamboyant and whimsical hummingbird. For being the smallest bird in the world, they have an amazingly big personality. Along with their exuberant disposition, their stunning iridescent feathers will take your breath away. 

Hummingbird Flying
Image by gilamonster8 via Flickr.

Considering this, it’s no wonder everyone is so captivated by this little bird! With the following tips, you’ll learn how to attract hummingbirds to your backyard so you can join in the splendor of their joy and character.

Creating a Hummingbird Haven in Your Backyard

Hummingbirds are relatively easy to attract because they search continuously for nectar and abundant nutrient sources. 

Across most of North America, hummingbirds are migratory and are around from spring to fall. Some hummingbird species are year-long residents in warm climates, such as the West Coast and South. 

As such, you may be able to attract a hummingbird to your backyard at any time, or you may need to wait for spring when they arrive in your area. 

In either case, you’ll want various resources for your hummingbirds so that your backyard meets their needs throughout the seasons. These resources include food (feeders and plants that attract hummingbirds), shelter, and water. 

Follow the steps below on how to attract hummingbirds to your backyard and you’ll have them buzzing around your flowers in no time.

1. Plant Flowers

Hummingbird Takes Nectar From a Flower
Image by Nancy Witthuhn via Flickr.

Hummingbirds are incredible fliers. Their fast-moving wings allow them to hover and speedily zip from flower to flower. 

As you might imagine, this requires a lot of energy. A hummingbird’s diet consists of about 90% sugary nectar from flowers to maintain their energy. This sugar provides them with quick fuel. Because they have such a fast metabolism, they feed about every 10 to 15 minutes. 

Planting a variety of flowers is the best way to attract hummingbirds to your backyard. In particular, plants that attract hummingbirds have brightly colored, tubular flowers. This is because a hummingbird’s long, sword-like beak and probing tongue have evolved to sip nectar from tubular flowers. 

While it’s often remarked that it’s red flowering plants that attract hummingbirds, it’s more about the flower’s nectar supply than its color. As long as you provide a variety of tubular flowers that bloom throughout the growing season, you’ll be sure to attract hummingbirds. 

Native flowers are preferred as these are easy to maintain, are better for the ecosystem, and provide the perfect amount of nectar for the hummingbirds. Here’s a list of some native plants that attract hummingbirds: 

  • Bee Balm (Monarda spp.) 
  • Salvia (Salvia spp.)
  • Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis)
  • Columbine (Aquilegia spp.)
  • Coral Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens)
  • Delphinium (Delphinium spp.) 

While native plants are best, hummingbirds still appreciate ornamental flowers and shrubs. In the Pacific Northwest (where some hummingbirds are year-long residents), they love rosemary bushes which flower during the winter. I’ve also seen them sipping from lavender bushes, petunias, flowering mints, Anise hyssop, and hollyhocks. They’re not too particular. 

2. Providing Perches

Because of how much energy hummingbirds use when flying, they need to rest periodically. As such, shrubs and small trees are plants that attract hummingbirds because they provide resting perches. 

Shrubs will also give hummingbirds a safe and shaded place to rest throughout the day. 

With both resting perches and various flowers, you’re more likely to encourage hummingbirds to stay close to your backyard. This is because you’re providing both food and shelter – two of the primary resources they need. It also increases your chances of a female nesting in one of your shrubs. 

Hummingbird Perched
Image by Gary McCormick via Flickr.

3. Set up a Hummingbird Feeder 

Setting up a hummingbird feeder is a sure way to attract hummingbirds to your backyard. These special feeders are usually bright red and are designed to hold sugar water. 

You can easily make nectar out of sugar and water at home. Simply combine one part refined white sugar to four parts boiled water. Mix thoroughly until the sugar completely dissolves. Let the sugar water cool to room temperature, then fill the feeder and place it outside. 

It’s imperative to keep your hummingbird feeder clean and replace the sugar water once a week (twice in hot weather). Dirty feeders or moldy sugar water can be critically harmful to hummingbirds. 

To clean a hummingbird feeder, soak it in water and vinegar and rinse it out with warm water. If you notice the sugar water in your feeder is cloudy, immediately clean the feeder and provide fresh nectar. 

4. Maintain a Pesticide-Free Backyard 

Along with nectar, hummingbirds rely on small insects and spiders for protein. As such, they prefer diverse and healthy ecosystems that provide them with various food sources. 

To maintain a healthy ecosystem in your backyard, don’t use pesticides or herbicides. Not only does this support hummingbirds, but also all the wildlife in your area. 

Furthermore, hummingbirds use spiderwebs (and lichen/moss) to build their nest. And, hummingbird nestlings are almost exclusively fed small spiders until they’re able to leave the nest. 

In this way, a pesticide-free backyard encourages hummingbirds and other bird species (such as bluebirds or swallows) to nest near your home. 

Hummingbird Feeder Attracting a Hummingbird
Image by Laura Stafford via Flickr.

5. Providing Water

The last step is to provide a water source to create the ideal backyard for attracting hummingbirds. While nectar hydrates hummingbirds, they still love to bathe and sip fresh water. 

However, they don’t often bathe in bird baths. Rather, they prefer smaller pools of water or mist. You can find hummingbird fountains or misters online, or you can even make one yourself

Alternatively, place rocks in your bird bath to create more shallow pools for hummingbirds. These rocks will also help bees and other insects drink water more safely. 

Enjoying a Hummingbird-Friendly Backyard 

Now that you know how to attract hummingbirds to your backyard, it’s only a matter of time before they visit. 

With nectar, perches, insects, water, and plants that attract hummingbirds, you’ll create a hummingbird paradise that will attract them year after year. 

While it may be a bit of work at first to gather resources, the effort will be more than worth it once you have little hummingbirds zipping around your yard. 

Categories
Guides

The Best Bird Food for Wild Birds

What to Feed Our Winged Friends

Bird on Bird Feeder
Image by Tohoku Photogaphy via Flickr.

Going to your local garden center and choosing food for wild birds can be surprisingly overwhelming. There are seemingly endless options, and they’re all marketed as the best. What is the best food for wild birds? This can depend on what birds you’d like to attract and on seasonal temperatures and conditions. 

Best Bird Food for Wild Birds

There are three top tier seed choices for wild birds: black-oil sunflower seeds, safflower, and nyger. But this is not where the feeding options end! Millet, suet cakes, cracked corn, and fruit are also great options. Let’s take a closer look at each. 

Black-Oil Sunflower Seeds

This is the most popular seed due to its health benefits. The subtype ‘black-oil’ is chosen due to its thin shell which is easy to crack open. The seed has a high meat—to-shell ratio, a high fat content, and is a good source of protein. This makes the seed a top-pick during winter. Black-oil sunflower seeds attract most birds, especially chickadees, finches, titmice, grosbeaks, nuthatches, cardinals, jays, mourning doves, and woodpeckers. 

Tip: You can offer shelled seeds if you don’t want a mess of cracked shells under your feeder. Beware, however, that this leaves your seeds more susceptible to spoiling. The feeder will need to be cleaned and seeds replaced daily. 

A Busy Bird Feeder
Image by Shea Weinzirl via Flickr.

Safflower Seeds

Safflower seeds rank at the top of the list as far as quality goes, but it ranks high in price too. Similar to the sunflower seed, it is high in protein and fat. The benefit? The pests of the birding world such as starling and house sparrows as well as squirrels are not attracted to this seed. It is therefore recommended for dissuading undesirable species from communing at your feeder. Birds that are highly attracted to safflower seeds include grosbeaks, sparrows, doves, and particularly the northern cardinal. 

Njyger (Thistle)

Nyjer is a type of thistle seed that is specifically used to attract goldfinches. It however is also good for chickadees, mourning doves, sparrows and other small finches such as siskins and redpolls. This is another option that squirrels don’t prefer and can be placed out safely without worrying about them bothering your bird population or taking over the feeder. The seeds are rich in oil and protein which makes them a great source of energy. The feeding of most seeds can be cut back in the summertime, but continuing to provide nyjer for goldfinches is not only acceptable, but advised. 

Wild Bird Seed Filler: Milo and Oats

Have you ever noticed the birds at your feeder throwing seeds away? There are a few reasons they do this, but the most common reason is they are trying to get to the good stuff! Birds have their preferences and will push away the mediocre to get to the seeds or other foods they want. 

Picky Bird Eating Bird Seed
Image by Peter Steeper via Flickr.

There are some seeds and food products that are included in many wild bird seed mixes that next to no birds actually prefer. These are cheap, low-quality ingredients and are considered fillers. Common fillers include milo oats, and red millet. Birds will eat these fillers only when no better option is available. Milo in particular may attract aggressive birds such as cowbirds, starlings, and grackles. 

Wild Bird Food: Seedless

We often put bird foods in our feeders that are not technically seeds but are still loved by our winged friends. Here are a few high-quality examples. 

Suet Cakes

Suet cakes are best served in the winter. This is a high energy food that is greatly valuable in cold temps yet potentially harmful in the warmer months. They are often made from animal fat which provides a great source of energy when it is needed in the winter, but can pack on too many pounds when wild food is plentiful as well as spoil quickly in the summer heat. Chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers, wrens, creepers, kinglets, cardinals, and other insect-eating birds are all highly attracted to suet cakes. Note that starlings and other aggressive birds are highly attracted to this food too. 

Tip: Many commercial suet cakes are low-quality, made with mostly filler. The solution? Make your own! Not so crafty? You can buy straight suet at the butcher generally, but beware, it is pricy.

Bird Eating Bird Suet
Image by Richard Vaillancourt via Flickr.

Peanuts

Peanuts are a great warm-weather alternative to suet cakes. You can even grind the peanuts and mix with cornmeal to make a moldable cake. Titmice, chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers, cardinals, jays, and many sparrows are attracted to peanuts. You can offer them shelled or whole in a specially designed feeder. These are typically cylindrical and feature a wire mesh cage in which the birds must retrieve the treats from. 

White Millet

While red millet is considered a filler, white millet has valuable nutritional properties and is well-liked by many birds, especially ground feeding birds. Doves, juncos, and sparrows are the top fans, alongside non-native invasive species such as European starlings and house sparrows. White millet is rich in carbs and provides birds with energy. A subtype, proso millet, is also a fan favorite as it is easy to digest. 

Cracked Corn

Blackbirds love cracked corn. It is popular with many large bird varieties such as jays, pigeons, doves, turkeys, pheasants, and quail. Some smaller birds will join in, so long as it is cracked and not whole kernels, such as finches and sparrows. Beware, cracked corn will also attract mammals such as raccoons, opossums, and rodents. 

Fruit

There are many birds which prefer fruit to seed. Fruit attracts birds such as robins, thrushes, waxwings, and bluebirds as seeds are not a major part of their diet. In addition to fresh fruit, you can serve organic raisins or currants softened by soaking in water. 

Supplementing Wild Birds: Nutrition and More

Bird Eating Fruit
Image by Wesley Barr via Flickr.

You can do more for birds than just provide seeds and food items. For instance, adding clean water to your backyard refuge can be helpful to wild birds, as can planting seed-heavy plants which additionally attract desirable insects. Examples are winterberry, coneflowers, goldenrod, sunflowers, black eyed susan, and zinnias. 

You can also provide mealworms (a great source of protein, especially during breeding seasons) and baked eggshells (eggshells return calcium to birds lost during egg production but must be baked or boiled to remove salmonella and other bacteria). 

Lastly, a non-nutrition related way to assist the wild bird population in your backyard is to offer nesting materials in the springtime such as twigs and organic cotton. 

What Not to Feed Wild Birds

Below is a list of items not to feed wild birds. This is not comprehensive. Please always double check safety before feeding wild birds a new food. 

Harmful foods for wild birds include:

  • Bread
  • Chocolate
  • Avocado
  • Alliums (onion, garlic, etc)
  • Dehydrated coconut
  • Cooking fats
  • Beans
  • Salt
  • Dairy
  • Mushrooms
  • Fruit seeds or pits
  • Table scraps
  • Moldy or spoiled food
  • Food coloring

What You Need to Know About Feeding Wild Birds

Here are some tips and considerations regarding feeding foods for wild birds.

Chickadee on a Bird Feeder
Image by Gshappell via Flickr.

What to Do:

  • Your food source must be consistent and reliable, especially during winter as the birds come to depend upon this feed and may have even adjusted their migration route and taught their young about your garden. 
  • Feeding is most helpful in extreme conditions when birds need the most energy, especially in late winter and early spring when natural resources are depleted. Seeds can be fed in summertime but should be limited and aren’t necessarily needed. The exception to this is the nyger seed for goldfinches and nectar for hummingbirds.
  • Keep seeds clean and dry. Humidity in the summer can be a great danger as moisture on seeds leads to mold and other harmful bacteria. Refresh seeds and clean the feeder often. Be sure to also sweep up feed from under the feeders. 
  • Many bird seed varieties come mixed. This excludes certain birds who aren’t attracted to fillers such as millet. To attract a wide variety of wild birds, try sprinkling the mix on the ground or a platform and hanging bird feeders with sunflower and/or safflower seeds in the trees. 
  • Making squash or pumpkin? Feed your seeds to the birds. Just make sure it’s organic. Let them fully dry first, then run them through a food processor if desired to make them more accessible to smaller birds.
  • When buying seeds, ensure they are high quality, free of debris and dust, fresh, clean, and dry. Ensure there are no seed coatings! These contain neurotoxic neonics. One seed can be enough to kill a songbird. 
  • Keep cats indoors.

What Not to Do:

  • Don’t feed when it can cause harm, for example during avian flu or conjunctivitis outbreaks. If the birds at your feeder look sick, temporarily remove your feeder and clean well before putting back out.
  • Don’t feed aggressive or endangered birds as it impacts their behavior. You can learn more about this from the US Fish and Wildlife Service. FWS also asks that you consider the three major hardships of feeding wild birds: disease, predation, and collision. Keep your feeder clean to prevent disease, ensure there are no recurring predators, and prevent collision with windows by placing your feeder within three feet of the window or fifteen to thirty feet away. You may also choose to put up window decals or screening to prevent fatal collisions. 
  • Don’t use any type of oil to deter insects around feeders as this can contaminate the bird feed, and in particular nectar, and ruin the birds’ insulative properties. Move the feeder if needed.
Categories
Guides

Finding the Best Bird Watching Areas Near You

If you’re thinking “where is the best bird watching near me?”, well, read no further. This article is for you.

Anza Borrego Desert State Park
Image by Minder Cheng via Flickr.

Rewind to the 1966 superman movie, and you may remember the iconic line:

“It’s a bird…It’s a plane…”

Do you remember what the people in the clip are doing? Looking up to the sky. 

Birds are associated with the sky, like peanut butter is associated with jelly. 

But, birds aren’t just found in the skies. That would be boring – and far too easy for us to spot. 

Across the globe, birds have evolved not just in the skies, but on the land and far out at sea. So, with such varied habitats, how do we know what areas are best for bird watching? 

Read on to discover the best bird watching areas near you. 

What Habitats Do Birds Like?

Birds are as adaptable as they are resilient. 

Afterall, they are descendants of the dinosaurs. 

However, like with most animals, many bird species have exploited one particular ecological niche – or, in simple terms, the role an organism plays in the community. 

Sure, many birds are found in the sky. 

However, throughout the USA, and of course all over the globe, birds have adapted to a range of environments. 

Prairie Chickens
Image by Doug Greenberg via Flickr.

Some species, such as the prairie chicken, lead a terrestrial lifestyle, adapted to life on the open plains of Midwest USA. 

Other species, such as woodpeckers, are hard to spot while in flight. Instead, you’ll be better off looking around dense forests with plenty of dead trees. Here, woodpeckers have evolved to bore into trees to make nesting cavities. 

Others, such as the Atlantic puffin, have leaned into a little bit of everything. Not only can they fly, they have also adapted to swim to catch their prey, as well as dig underground burrows to escape predators.

The Best Places to Birdwatch in the US

The USA is big. 

Like, really big. 

At almost 10 million km², there is no possible way we could tell you every single bird watching area near you. 

Instead, we can categorize regions and tell you some of the best, in our opinion, areas for birdwatching. 

Northeast

Starting with the smallest, we have the Northeast. 

This region contains states including, but not limited to, Maine, Virginia, New York, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania. 

From the dramatic sea cliffs of the Gaspe Peninsula to the limestone valleys of West Virginia, Northeast USA has a rich bird biodiversity. 

Sprawling old-growth forest, acres of wetlands, towering mountains and endless shorelines provide bountiful habitats and environments for birds to thrive. 

So, where are some of the best birdwatching areas in the Northwest? 

1. Cape May – New Jersey 

Cape May Warbler
Image by Jim Zenock via Flickr.

On the southern tip of New Jersey, the Cape May peninsula stretches across the Delaware Bay. 

Throughout spring and fall, the area sees a high influx of bird migrants passing through. 

And when I say high, I mean high. Upwards of a million migrating birds pass by, making the Cape Bay migration one of the largest assembled populations of shorebirds in the Western Hemisphere. 

To catch a glimpse of  species such as warblers, vireos, tanagers, grosbeaks, orioles, and buntings, head to the Cape May Migratory Refuge Center. If you’re lucky, you may even spot a peregrine falcon – the world’s fast animal!

2. Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge – Delaware 

Cross from New Jersey and into Delaware, the Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge provides ample opportunities for avid bird watchers. 

Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge
Image by William Culp via Flickr.

In the last 20 years, over 300 bird species have been observed in the large wetland area, including wood ducks and snow geese. 

In May, large congregations of shorebirds, such as plovers and sandpipers, can be seen in their thousands. 

Throughout this reserve, boardwalks and observation decks allow for birders to be fully immersed in the natural spectacle. 

3. Mount Desert Island – Maine 

Travel North and into the frigid waters of the Gulf of Maine, you’ll find Mount Desert Island. 

The rugged island, just a short ferry ride from the mainland, is home to the Acadia National Park

Mount Desert Island
Image by _rickard via Flickr.

With a variety of habitats – from rich coastline to pine forests – a range of species can be found here. Year-round residents include the bald eagle, gray jays and black guillemots – a type of seabird with striking black and white plumage. 

In the summer, between the of May – August, visitors may be able to spot the Atlantic puffin as they come ashore to breed. The oceanic islands off Maine, including Mount Desert Island, are the only nesting sites for this vibrant-beaked seabird in the USA.

Southwest 

The American Southwest has no shortage of birding opportunities. In fact, states such California, Arizona and Texas have some of the highest diversity of birdlife across the entire country. 

But, where to start?

4. Rio Grande Valley – Texas

Warm weather, fruit orchards and palm trees. Sounds bliss. Add nearly 400 species of birds, both common and exotic, and the Rio Grande Valley is a bird watching haven. 

Rio Grand Valley
Image by Steve Yabek via Flickr.

On the Southern tip of Texas, the town of Harlingen hosts the annual Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival during the November migration, when hundreds of bird species depart their summer nesting grounds to spend the winter in Latin America.

Birds include owls, parrots, kiskadees, raptors, ducks and so much more. 

To the West, the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge hosts up to 97,000 acres of wetlands, tidal flats, desert & prairie habitats – the perfect environment for bird watching. Here, 10 federally endangered or threatened species, including the brown pelican, cactus ferruginous pygmy-owl and Northern aplomado falcon, can all be found here.

5. Saguaro National Park – Arizona 

The giant saguaro is, well, a giant. It is the largest cacti species found in the USA and a true Wild West icon. As such, the land where these plants are found have rightfully a federally protected status. 

Saguaro National Park
Image by Stephen Nelson via Flickr.

Within the Saguaro National Park boundary, a range of uncommon bird species can be found here, such as vermilion flycatchers and whiskered screech owls.

The surprising array of habitats – from lowland desert to pine forests – help support a large diversity of bird life. One of the most common, and easily recognizable species, is the roadrunner. 

A member of the cuckoo family, the roadrunner is predominantly a ground predator. Reaching speeds of up to 15 mph, the roadrunner can speed across the desert floor in search of prey such as snakes and lizards. 

In areas of higher elevation within the park, specialized species such as the yellow-eyed junco can be found. 

6. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park – California   

Anza Borrego Desert Park
Image by Gail K E via Flickr.

Drive two hours East of San Diego’s beaches, and you’ll come across California’s largest state park – Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Protecting 600,000 acres, the land encompasses a range of desert terrains, including dramatic badlands, palm oases, slot canyons, and cactus-studded slopes.

In the Spring, the once-barron dessert comes alive with the flowering of native cacti and wildflowers. Within the mass of flowering life, many bird species reside. Be on the lookout for Costa’s Hummingbird, Verdins, California Quails and black-throated Sparrows.

West 

With diverse climates and landscapes, Western USA provides ample bird watching areas. 

From coastal forests to desert scrub, there are birding hotspots throughout California, Washington and Idaho.

“But the West is VAST! I want to know about the bird watching near me!”. 

Well, here are our favorites:

7. Point Reyes National Seashore – California 

Snowy Plover Chick
Image by Jerry Ting via Flickr.

Heading to the Central western peninsula of Point Reyes, about 30 miles North of San Francisco, a 71,000 acre protected wilderness of sandy beaches, cliff faces, rolling dues and cypress forests reveals itself. 

Year round, close to 500 species of birds have been observed in the many habitats that surround Point Reyes National Seashore.

One bird of interest is the endangered snowy plover. This small shorebird has a distinguishable white chest and dark ear patches. They nest between spring and fall, with adults laying their eggs on stretches of sandy, unvegetated beach. 

Within the park, there are many birding opportunities. Head over to Bear Valley to spot an array of land birds, such as warblers, sparrows, kinglets, thrushes, wrens, woodpeckers, hummingbirds, and owls.

Bolinas Lagoon also attracts a range of aquatic species, such as cormorants, pelicans, kingfishers, and a variety of waterfowl and shorebirds.

8. Billy Frank Jr Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge – Washington 

Located in Olympia, Washington, the Billy Frank Jr Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge is home to a mosaic of habitats, created from the ebb and flow of the Nisqually River. 

Billy Frank Jr Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge
Image by USFWS via Flickr.

The fluctuating tidal behavior influences an array of bird species. As the tide retreats, greater yellowlegs are a common site. The returning tide sees an abundance of waterbirds, such as dunlin and sandpipers. The diversity of wading birds attract predatory raptors, such as bald eagles and marlin. 

The relative proximity to the city of Tacoma makes Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge a good area for semi-urban bird watching. The park is open year-round, and each season brings something slightly different. 

The mile-long Nisqually Estuary Boardwalk extends over the estuary, providing ample opportunities to watch the bustling movements of the many bird species that visit here. 

9. Heyburn State Park – Idaho

Just South of Lake Chatcolet, in Central eastern Idaho, the Heyburn State Park can be found. 

Designated a protected space in 1908, Heyburn State Park is the oldest park in Western USA and boasts near 6,000 acres of pine forests and wild flower meadows. Beyond the forests, over 2,000 acres of water provide the perfect habitat for a range of bird species. 

Throughout the park, miles of trails offer some of the best birdwatching areas. One of the biggest draws for birds is the opportunity to glimpse the great blue heron rookery, where up to 50 breeding pairs nest. 

Great Blue Heron Rookery
Image by Matthew Paulson via Flickr.

In the summer months, look out for a range of waterfowl, such as wood ducks and Canada geese, grebes and soras, as well as the osprey; a spectacular fish-eating raptor. 

As winter draws in and the lakes freeze, thousands of bird species, such as the American wigeon and mallards, use this area to rest and escape predators. 

Southeast

The Southeastern USA is a very special place for birding. 

Why?

In some regions, especially Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, bird endemism is high. That is, birds that are found nowhere else in the world. 

10. Savannas Preserve State Park – Florida

Florida supports both migratory birds that stopover within the Atlantic Flyway as well as resident birds, some of which are endemic. The most famous, perhaps, is the Florida scrub jay. 

Florida Scrub Jay
Image by JFP_Birds via Flickr.

One of the best places to spot the Florida scrub jay is in the Savannas Preserve State Park, on the Northern fringes of Miami. This region is thought to house some of the last remaining continuous coastal scrubland, land occupied in low trees and bushes, in Southeast Florida.

Listed as threatened, the Florida scrub jay has been severely affected by habitat loss. 

This species can be easily recognized by their patchy blue and gray feathers, as well as their white forehead. 

11. The Everglades – Florida

Travel into the heart of the Everglades ecosystem, approximately 30 minutes Northeast of Naples, and you’ll find Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. 

A 2 mile boardwalk meanders its way through the largest old-growth bald cypress forest in North America, offering exceptional areas for bird watching. 

Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary
Image by Visit Florida via Flickr.

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is home to a wide diversity of birds, from the iconic wood stork to the majestic bald eagle. Visitors are attracted to the array of wading birds, songbirds and raptors. 

However, one of the park’s highlights is the boat-tailed grackle. These iridescent songbirds are a predominantly coastal species endemic to Florida, as well as a few coastal pockets between Georgia and New England. 

Male boat-tailed grackles have long tail feathers, often making up at least half their body length. 

12. Apalachicola National Forest – Florida 

Head to the Northwest of Florida, close to the border of Alabama, and you’ll come across the Apalachicola National Forest.

Spanning over 630,000 acres, the region supports various habitat types. Perhaps the most unique of these habitats is the sandy soils, which are home to the Florida longleaf pine. 

Distinguishable from other pine trees, with their long, fountain-like needles, they serve an important purpose. The longleaf pine supports the region’s largest remaining population of the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. 

Apalachicola National Forest
Image by Anttanager via Flickr.

However, don’t let the name fool you. These endemic woodpeckers have black and white barring across their backs, with a black cap and large white cheek patches. Barely visible, the species gets its name from a small red streak on the black cap. 

The region of Wilma, to the West of the Apalachicola River, supports the highest density of the red-cockaded woodpecker and offers the best bird watching opportunities.

Midwest

From the heart of the USA, to the states bordering Canada and the Great Lakes, the Midwest is full of diverse and accessible bird watching. 

Whether it’s the rolling prairies of Kansas and Nebraska, the sprawling forests of Minnesota and Wisconsin or the vast lakes of Michigan, the Midwest USA is a paradise for bird enthusiasts. 

13. Magee Marsh Wildlife Area – Ohio 

Magee Marsh Wildlife Area
Image by Jerry Ting via Flickr.

Before making the arduous flight across Lake Erie and into Canada, a plethora of migrating warblers take refuge at the Magee Marsh Wildlife Area in Toledo. 

Every spring, between the months of April and May, large concentrations pass through Magee Marsh, before heading onto their Northern summer breeding grounds. 

Commonly sighted species include gnatcatchers, palm warblers, yellow warblers, ruby-crowned kinglets, vireos and more. 

However, with such fantastic bird watching opportunities, the area can easily become saturated with human visitors! 

14. Platte River Valley – Nebraska 

You’ll find no snow-capped mountains or dense forests in Nebraska. Yet, bird watching flourishes here. 

That’s due to the presence of one particular, and very complex ecosystem, the prairie. 

Prairies are often defined as large areas of flat grassland with few trees. The last place you’d think to look for birds. However, certain species of birds thrive in these grasslands.  

One particular location, the Platte River Valley, is a hotspot for bird diversity. With wet meadows, sandbards, channels and banks, this system is an oasis in the endless grassland.

As such, every spring, upwards of 600,000 sandhill cranes – almost the entirety of their global population – arrive from southern reaches of North America. They use the fertile grounds of the Platte River Valley to feed, before continuing on with their migration. 

Platte River Valley
Image by Dennis McIntire via Flickr.

This valley also provides vital migration habitat for other bird species, including whooping cranes, waterfowl and shorebirds. Interior least terns and plovers nest on sandbars within and around the river system. 

In late spring, greater prairie chickens use the open expanse of grasslands to perform their mating rituals – a frenzied display of stomping, jumping and booming vocalizations. 

15. Wisconsin Point – Wisconsin 

We’re heading to the Northwestern tip of Wisconsin, to the shores of Lake Superior, for our final bird watching area in the USA.

Just 2.5 miles, Wisconsin Point is a narrow peninsula. However, what it lacks in size it makes up for in old-growth pine forests and beaches. In the spring and fall migration months of May and September, many species of bird take refuge here.

Amongst the trees and bushes, look out for an array of warbler and sparrow species. If you’re lucky, you may even spot a falcon or two!

However, look across the lake surface, and a whole new birding world reveals itself. During peak migration season, a huge diversity of seabirds can be seen floating effortlessly upon the water. 

Arctic terns, famed for having one of the longest migration routes ever recorded, can be spotted off the shores of Lake Superior. As can multiple species of gulls and jaeger. 

The parasitic jaeger, also known as the Arctic skua, is a kleptoparasite. They chase and harass other bird species, such as gulls and terns, to give up their meals. A brutal, albeit fascinating, behavior that draws in crowds from all around.  

Parasitic Jaeger Stealing a Meal
Image by Jessica Joachim via Jessica-Joachim.com.

Final Thoughts

Type in “bird watching near me” and a plethora of results show up.

Sure, we’ve mentioned a few of what we think are some of the best bird watching areas in the USA. 

However, this is merely scratching the surface. Across all states, there are thousands of places that offer great bird watching. 

The habitats in which birds occupy are near endless – offshore, cliff, desert, grasslands, mountains, forests. The list goes on. 

Just remember, be respectful if visiting any of these natural environments and, of course, don’t forget to pack your binoculars!

Categories
Social

Keeping Up With The Kestrels (2024 Nest Update)

The Kestrels Are Back and Ready to Ruffle Some Feathers!

The Kestrel Parents with Five Eggs in the Nest
Kestrel male (left) and female (right) swapping incubation duties. Image by Nest Box Live.

Our kestrel nest is back in full action and boy, are we thrilled to have them back for another season of nesting antics!

This common kestrel family are being live-streamed every day from their nest box location in Blackpool, UK. It’s like reality TV, but with more feathers and fewer Kardashians!

Tune in to the live-stream on our YouTube channel and follow our blog for all the latest updates on their feathered family drama.

Let’s Nestle into the Past…

If you’re new to this kestrel live-stream, let’s take a trip down memory lane to see why our viewers are hooked on these high-flying falcons.

Since we installed cameras in this nest back in 2020, we’ve been captivated by the comings and goings of our kestrel companions. From raising four chicks in 2021 and 2022 to a whopping five chicks in 2023, this nest has seen its fair share of baby bird bonanzas!

Kestrel Chicks Up Close Whilst Being Ringed
A kestrel chick from the Blackpool nest in 2020, whilst it was being ringed. Image by Steve Cushing Photography.

Its worth noting that kestrels are quite discerning about their nesting spots. They will often disregard a nest one year if the conditions and food availability aren’t up to scratch. It’s really positive to see these kestrels continually returning and we are excited to witness another nesting season for this pair.

As a falcon, common kestrels are a bird of prey. This means they feed on other animals, as opposed to insects and berries like other birds.

They also tend to have a much longer nesting period than song birds. This gives us a prolonged observation window as we witness the gradual maturation of the hatchlings into fully developed adults.

The Kestrel Nesting Season Begins

The kestrels have returned, and the excitement is palpable. What’s been happening and what can we anticipate?

The nesting season kicked off over a month ago for our dynamic kestrel duo. After solidifying their bond over the winter, they were ready to tackle parenthood once again.

Kestrel Nest Preparations

Unlike some of their fussier bird counterparts, kestrels keep it simple when it comes to nest prep. Find a ledge, scrape a hole, and voila! Home sweet home.

Our artificial nest box, filled with cozy wood chips, is like a five-star hotel for this feathered couple.

In early April, our kestrel power couple got to work, creating the perfect depression for their soon-to-be-arriving eggs. They do this by ‘belly-flopping’ onto the wood chips and scraping the hole out with their legs.

The Kestrel Eggs Arrive

On April 16th, the first egg made its grand entrance, decked out in a shiny mucus coat for the occasion. This gives kestrel eggs a glossy, red appearance upon laying and can aid us in identifying the most recently laid egg once multiple eggs are present.

First Egg in the Kestrel Nest
Kestrel female lays the first egg. Image by Nest Box Live.

Two days later, egg number two joined the party, followed by three more over the next week. That’s a grand total of five eggs, folks!

Kestrels typically lay anywhere from three to six eggs, with larger clutches indicating optimal weather or a particularly large and healthy mama bird.

Incubation Commences

Who, when and for how long?

In common kestrels, the male and female share incubation duties, though the kestrel mum takes the lead. The male kestrel’s primary role is to bring in food and protect the nest from intruders.

The parents didn’t start full-incubation until the fourth egg had been laid. Before this, they were seen occasionally sitting on the eggs but would still leave them uncovered for several hours.

But don’t be quick to label these birds as lazy! Their procrastination serves a crucial purpose in the grand scheme of survival. By delaying their incubation, they’re not just idly lounging around; they’re executing a clever evolutionary tactic. This strategic delay ensures that when the chicks finally emerge, they do so in a synchronized chorus, rather than as solitary stragglers.

This synchronized hatching significantly boosts the survival odds for the later-hatched chicks.

Kestrel Male Brings Dinner for the Female
The male kestrel (right) feeds his female companion (left). Image by Nest Box Live.

Full incubation started on the 23rd of April. From then until now, the eggs have been incubated almost all of the time, mainly by our female bird. The male brings in food for his partner and she occasionally leaves the nest to stretch her wings.

What Can We Expect Next on the Kestrel Nest?

We’re eagerly anticipating the hatching of those eggs.

Kestrel egg incubation typically spans 28-29 days, so we expect the first egg to hatch around the 21st of May.

Once those adorable fluffballs emerge, it’s feeding time! The male kestrel hunts and delivers prey, often a vole or small mouse, while the female tears the flesh into bite-sized chunks for the chicks.

It’s a fascinating sight, and we highly recommend tuning in around this time for some kestrel chick-feeding action!