For the Birds: Watch for Nesting Birds

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Bewick's fledgling photo by Elaine Chuang

By Christine Southwick

Song Sparrows, White-crowned Sparrows, Spotted Towhees, Dark-eyed Juncos and Bewick’s Wrens are nesting right now. These birds are ground or near-ground nesters.

Watch where you walk and look for fledgling birds running on the ground, flying haphazardly, or not knowing to be afraid of humans yet. Fledglings are especially vulnerable right after bathing—it’s hard enough for these youngsters to fly with dry feathers.

Be cautious about weed-eating tall grass, pruning dense areas (especially ferns) and clearing brush piles. These are favorite nesting sites for these resident birds. Nesting will go on for all of spring, and much of the summer if these birds have a second brood, or try again because their first brood failed or was destroyed. 
Dark-eyed Junco nest photo by Craig Kerns

It also means controlling cats and dogs out of these areas. Dogs search interesting smells, and dog noses and paws have broken many eggs, and inadvertently injured nestlings and their parents. Cats enjoy hunting, even when not hungry, and are the second leading cause of bird deaths in the USA.

As our cities get denser, there are fewer and fewer safe places for nests. Even parks, which offer more open vegetation and what should have safe nesting spots, are not always safe due to dogs not staying on the paths.

Baby Song Sparrow in grass before it can fly
Photo by Elaine Chuang

White-crowned Sparrows nest in low bushes or clumps of weeds, and the parents watch from above. The hatchlings leave their nest four-five days after hatching — about two weeks before they can fly-because the nest is such a vulnerable location. 

Juvenile Spotted Towhee photo by Craig Kerns

There used to be a plant nursery in Shoreline on Aurora that had tall trees for sale, and for at least three years in a row, White-crowned Sparrows made a nest in a tray of bedding plants, and those babies would scurry out of their nest as soon as their little legs would carry them, and they would go outside the nursery to an uncultivated area where their parents would feed them until they could fly and fend for themselves. 

Sadly that nursery, and open area is gone, replaced by a tall building.

How can you help? 
  • Plant native plants so the birds can find native bugs to feed their babies. 
  • Don’t use pesticides. Poisoned bugs kill bird parents and their nestlings. Weed killers like Round-up get on ground birds legs, and poison spiders and worms that American Robins, Bewick’s Wrens, and Dark-eyed Juncos eat and take to their young.


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