Feature photo: Mallard Duckling at Kah Tai Lagoon
All photos by Wendy Feltham.
One of the delights of summer in Port Townsend is noticing baby birds in your garden or on a beach. Here are some of my favorites.
Barn Swallow Fledgling: Walking along North Beach in summer, you’ll see barn swallows flying low over the beach grabbing small insects in flight. Last August I heard hungry baby swallows calling from the tangle of roots on the bluff, and their parents frantically trying to feed them all. This baby is a fledgling, as it has left its nest and has more feathers than a nestling, but still needs care by its parents.
White-crowned Sparrow Parent Feeding Fledgling: White-crowned sparrows eat seeds, but in summer they like insects, too. To fatten a hungry fledgling, this clever parent brought her two babies to the beach on Indian Island to feed them not insects, but the abundant small crustaceans called sandhoppers.
Purple Martin Feeding Fledgling and Purple Martin Fledgling: Purple martins are another insectivore, and every spring they fly to North America from the Amazon to nest in woodpecker holes and other cavities. Locally they nest in boxes set up in marinas and on docks. I photographed these last summer at Point Hudson, where I saw adults again this April. Sadly, by May starlings had moved into these boxes. Good places to see nestling and fledgling purple martins are the Port Townsend Marine Science Center pier, the Boat Haven, the Port Ludlow Marina, and by kayak at a private dock in Mats Mats Bay.
Dark-eyed Junco Fledgling: I saw this fledgling fly across the path and flash its white tail feathers on Marrowstone Island and recognized her as a dark-eyed junco. But when she landed on a tree trunk and looked at me, she didn’t look like a junco at all, and her tail feathers were so short! Sometimes baby birds don’t look like their parents. They look “ruffled,” with spotted or streaked plumage that camouflages and protects them from predators, and their tail feathers need more time to grow in.
American Robin Juvenile: Here’s another example of a juvenile bird that doesn’t resemble its parents. Years ago, I visited Connecticut, trying to identify any bird that looked new to me with a field guide to birds of Eastern North America. After spending an hour looking at a flock of birds and studying every page of my guide, I was embarrassed to realize they were all young robins!
Red-breasted Nuthatch Fledgling: How can you tell if a bird is a baby? One clue is the baby bird’s beak. Sometimes a baby bird’s beak is large for its head, and sometimes you can see gape flanges, yellow or white fleshy tissue on the sides of the beak, that help guide the parents in placing food in their babies’ mouths. You can see the gape flanges on this young red-breasted nuthatch that visited our deck while his parents gorged on suet.
Olympic Gull Baby: Sometimes people are lucky to see baby birds hatching in a nest. For some reason, that never happens to me. But one summer day I was on the deck of the ferry leaving Coupeville, and looked over at the giant ferry structure a few feet away. A downy newborn Glaucous-winged/Olympic Gull was standing beside her future sibling, who was about to hatch.
Evening Grosbeak Fledgling: Sometimes we’re lucky to have special birds visit our sunflower seed feeder. On May 29, a small flock passed through our garden, with some foraging beneath the feeder, and this juvenile landing on top. It was only the second time we’ve seen Evening Grosbeaks in our garden. I checked my records, and the other time was six years ago… on May 29! I learned that May is the best month to see them in our area, so I’ll be watching for them next May 29.
Brown-headed Cowbird Fledglings: Last summer we noticed a frantic dark-eyed junco in our garden trying to satiate a much larger juvenile by constantly feeding him. A brown-headed cowbird had laid an egg in this poor junco’s nest! Brown-headed cowbirds don’t build their own nests or raise their own young. When I saw these two juveniles on the beach, I wondered who had been tricked into raising them.
Killdeer and Killdeer Nestling: This killdeer is using the broken wing display to pretend that she’s injured to keep predators (me) away from her nest, a scrape created by the male’s feet. The baby is nearby, able to walk out of his nest as soon as his feathers have dried. I try to never disturb or frighten birds. These photos, like all of my bird photos, were taken with a zoom lens and cropped.
Black Oystercatcher Juvenile and Parent: It’s easy to tell the difference between an adult and a juvenile black oystercatcher. This juvenile, with a two-toned bill that’s darker at the tip, is on the left, and she’s now grown as large as her parent. Like killdeer, the black oystercatcher creates a scrape right on the ground, and the newborn oystercatchers can also step right out of their nests as soon as their feathers dry. Juveniles stay with their parents for months, being fed and then learning how to forage.
Red-winged Blackbird Female and Fledgling: Red-winged blackbirds like to build their nests low in cattails, and here you can see a female in front and her fledgling behind, showing the yellow gape flanges on his beak. Juveniles tend to look more like adult females for their protection. Red-winged blackbirds are easy to find around here with the black and red males perched high and calling from the shores of Chinese Gardens lagoon, Kah Tai lagoon, or here at the Morningtide Preserve on Marrowstone Island.
Belted Kingfisher Nestling: Here’s a sad little baby who apparently fell out of her home, a long three to six foot burrow dug into a Marrowstone Island bluff. She clearly couldn’t fly yet, but appeared healthy and hungry. The burrow was too high above the beach for me to place her back inside. Unless they’re injured, it’s usually best to leave baby birds alone, hoping their parents will return. Since then, I’ve learned I should have waited an hour, staying at least 100 feet from the bird. If necessary, I could have then gotten advice from the Discovery Bay Wild Bird Rescue at 360-379-0802.