BIRDWISE: It’s renewal time

Marshall Howe is seeing more permanent bird residents, like blue jays, being followed around by their dependent fledglings, who are begging for food. (Adobe Stock)
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No, I’m not talking about your Enterprise subscription (though you may want to check that). I’m talking about bird stuff: the renewal of life (production of young) among our local breeding birds, the renewal of mating behavior by birds that have already raised a brood, and your need to renew your commitment to keeping feeders supplied.

First, about producing young, June is the most important month in Minnesota for nesting by both permanent residents (e.g., woodpeckers, white- and red-breasted nuthatches, black-capped chickadees, blue jays and American crows) and migratory species that stop here to nest and rear their young before heading back south (e.g., scarlet tanagers, great crested flycatchers, chestnut-sided warblers, yellowthroats, American robins and many, many others).

Nearly all of these locally breeding species have been nesting through June. I am seeing more and more flying (but still dependent) young following their parents around and begging for food – downy and hairy woodpeckers, nuthatches, blue jays, and rose-breasted grosbeaks, to name a few.

Second, about renewal of mating behavior, many birds that have successfully fledged one brood (or that experienced a failed nest attempt) are moving on for a second go. It takes a few days to a week or more for the hormones that promote nesting and parental care to revert back to those that promote mating behavior.

We are beginning to see that in the form of renewed territorial singing by males. Singing had subsided a bit when they were busy helping their mates feed the nestlings.


Around our lakeside home, examples of species exhibiting renewed singing are song sparrows, chipping sparrows, ovenbirds, and black and white warblers. (The red-eyed vireos seem to sing incessantly all summer long, no matter what!)

Raising two or more broods in a season is routine for some permanent residents, which are able to get an early start, but less common in long-distance migrants, which may not have enough time between migrations to raise more than one family.

Finally, about you and your feeders. As I’ve mentioned more than once in this column, seed-eating and nectar-feeding birds switch to a mainly insect diet while they are raising young. Insects provide the high-protein diet nestlings need for rapid growth.

So, during much of June, you may have noticed a huge drop-off in the visitation rates of birds, including hummingbirds, to your feeders. Have no fear – this is normal, not a sign of diminishing populations.

Once the young fledge, seed-eating parents will lead them to the feeders and feed them seeds. We are seeing this in woodpeckers and nuthatches in particular, but recently in rose-breasted grosbeaks and purple finches, too.

Gradually, the young figure out how to do it on their own. Hummingbird young seem to know instinctively how to ingest nectar, but the parents probably need to lead them to your hummingbird feeders.

Hummingbird feeders are a great alternative to natural sources if you change sugar solution regularly. Expect to see a big increase in action at all your feeders in this month and on into the fall!

Marshall Howe is a retired biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He specialized in bird population studies. Howe has been a Park Rapids resident since 2010.

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