Jun 8 2012 by Jean Pedder, Stirling Observer Friday
SUDDENLY it is increasingly a time for the young ones. Flotillas of mallard ducklings paddling frantically in the wake of their mothers pattern the loch’s otherwise unruffled surface.
Just a week ago in exactly the same spot, I watched a pair of great crested grebes conducting their amazing courtship ritual.
Each bird dived to retrieve vegetation from the bed of the loch before approaching one another head on, heads shaking from side to side, meeting chest to chest before presenting their gifts. Then they seemed almost to stand upright on the water as they reared up, again chest to chest.
Their young ones will clearly not emerge for a wee while yet and clearly their timing is therefore different from that of the mallard. Mallard notoriously of course are precocious!
In a more terrestrial location, the robins are stepping up the pace, darting in and out of the holly hedge with a constant supply of creepy crawlies for their well hidden family.
The fields are full of those fledgling rooks pleading to be fed by doting parents, despite a brief assault upon them by a couple of shooters. The theory I presume was that they are being fed on the precious grain sewn by the farmer some weeks ago.
Yet the likelihood is that should they choose to examine the crops of the birds they have shot they would probably find them full of the invertebrate pests that do so much harm to cereal crops such as wireworms and leatherjackets. The invertebrates, packed full of vital protein, are of much greater value to young rooks than grain
The heronry has been a noisy place these past few weeks. For all their gangling appearance, herons choose high rise nesting here, high up in the crowns of Scots Pines. Herons are colonial nesters and a woodland occupied by a colony of these fish consuming birds, is not only noisy – the young often keep a battery of noise going on right through the night – it is inevitably pretty smelly too!
Indeed herons might also perhaps be described as precocious for they get down to the business of breeding quite early in the year. There is much coming and going as the parent birds float in on those great bowed wings to feed their youngsters by regurgitating the fishy contents of their crops.
There is evidence here that the great spotted woodpeckers have young to feed. Passage at the two peanut feeders which this year I have unusually retained into the month of June has been constant and it now seems certain that we have two pairs of these birds nesting close by.
Two birds, male and female dart in at regular intervals from the south-east and so are probably nesting in the orchard. They zoom in to crash land on the nut baskets and then hammer at the contents with great vigour.
If I had concern for the possibility that the parent birds might be extracting whole nuts – not easily digested by young birds – those concerns I think are eased, for the powerful blows administered by those dirk-like beaks surely break the nuts into really tiny fragments. I presume the resulting scraps are duly disgorged for the chicks. Another pair regularly comes to the baskets from a south-westerly direction.
From hatching to fledging takes almost three weeks for woodpeckers and I am looking forward to watching the youngsters once they are flying. Woodpeckers seem to have real character about them.
I described them as staccato birds last week and indeed they really are all action birds that never seem to do anything at less than full bore.
The female of one of my two pairs seems especially neurotic, flying in to the old yew tree where one of the feeders is hung and literally hanging there upside down before in a flash, descending to feed or, as the mood takes her, flying frantically away again without touching the food.
Familiar birds that have really caught my eye are a pair of great tits that are nesting in a hole where once there was a branch, in an ancient ash beside the loch.
What all these new parent birds have in common is a quite remarkable degree of dedication. As yet of course, I have no notion as to just how many chicks this pair of great tits has hatched. But the two parent birds are certainly working very hard, coming and going at remarkably short intervals and bringing in a constant stream of invertebrate life.
Great tits are easy to study because they take so well to artificial nest boxes and therefore can be studied very thoroughly and of course, at close quarters. Thus there is very little we don’t know about their lifestyles.
I guess the close study of great tits during the breeding season also requires a great deal of perseverance and indeed dedication on the part of their human students.
One bit of research I have read tells me that a single pair of great tits, during the three-week period of the intensive feeding of their brood in the nest before they fledge may catch and deliver between seven and eight thousand caterpillars.
Now that is dedication, not only on the part of the birds themselves but on the part of the person who counted them in! And of course, that isn’t the end of the story either for even when the youngsters have left the nest, they still require feeding for quite some time before they become self-sufficient.
This particular great tit nest is reasonably high up the ash tree and therefore seems well away from any threatening predators although once those chicks fledge I’m sure the local sparrowhawk population will pose a substantial threat.
The hawks too are rearing young and so, like the great tits must time their breeding patterns according to the availability of food. Their timing however is perhaps less crucial than that of the great tits which, before settling down to breed must have been very studious in watching the activities of the local moth population.
Knowing exactly when the moth’s caterpillars, which are about to form the very basis of their youngsters diet in the vital first three weeks of their lives, are due to emerge, is utterly key to the success or otherwise of their year.
The hawks of course, have a vast choice of newly fledged young of many different species and so timing for them is perhaps rather less critical.
At present they seem to be concentrating on the growing colony of collared doves that is so well established here judging by the little piles of collared dove plumage I keep finding.
But one pair of bluetits has really surprised us by successfully rearing a nestful of youngsters in a hole in the pretty ancient rowan tree near the back door.
Seven little yellow lined beaks open wide when I peer into the hole, an inspection incidentally, that immediately triggers an angry churring from the feisty parent birds which are never far away.
The nest is a mere four feet (maybe a metre) above ground, close to where our cats wander on a daily basis but luckily the hole is on the underside of this low branch and so has perhaps escaped the attention of our feline companions.
Those yellow lined beaks and the bright red interiors of course act as a stimulant for the parent birds, driving them to thrust invertebrate life into them at every available opportunity.
Thus is there a good deal of frantic coming and going here as the dedicated parent birds put every ounce of their energy into these first few crucial weeks of their progeny’s lives.
It’s all go from dawn to dusk which of course as we approach the summer solstice, are getting closer and closer together!
Indeed those great tits and our very local bluetits may well be working 24 shifts! That is real dedication!