Seasonal delights at this time of year include stories such as this..... This week, Nick was in the news as a result of inquiring about white birds that were diving precipitously into the ocean off the southern tip of Small Point. He described how these birds "fold their wings and drop like a stone" into the water. When they hit, "there's a white splash". He went on to wonder how the birds can hit that hard without getting hurt, as each bird rises in the air only to resume the plunge. These diving birds are feeding Gannets. They are elegant pelagic birds that may appear at this time of year as they migrate to warmer climes. Sometimes, strong winds will blow them toward shore. I once found one dead on Head Beach, and a camper found a Gannet skull that you may have seen among my collection of bones.
There is some conjecture that the force of entry into the water stuns the fish. Gannets gather and fish together. It is also thought that such group diving may disorient the fish and make them easier to catch. There are stories that Gannets may get tangled in fishermen's nets thirty feet below the surface. I read in an Audubon Field Guide that these birds are equipped with a system of interconnected air sacs under the skin of the breast which serves to cushion and protect the bird from the shock of hitting the water's surface at such a high speed. Some birds drop from 50 or more feet to plunge bill first in their pursuit of prey. These are not small birds. They are goose-like in size, and their wing span may reach 70 inches. No wonder Nick was excited!
Most of the birds that share our campsites have "flown the coop" as the saying goes. Now that the leaves are mostly off the trees and shrubs, one of my favorite hunts is for bird nests! I walk the same trails, and through well-used campsites, and often discover nests that were built and used right along side well traveled trails. They were hidden by leaves, and concealed by clever comings and goings of birds. Last week I took a short walk and found 5 nests with little difficulty. Most were in the shrub Honeysuckle. The Bayberry leaves are still hanging on, and once they drop, I'm sure to find more. I don't collect the nests even though in most cases they will not be used a second time. Nest building is a bonding exercise where two birds share a task that will ultimately result in egg laying and bird raising. The picture of this nest in a crotch of Meadowsweet was cut inadvertently, so I picked it up. The nest was about 2 inches in diameter. I would venture a guess that it was made by Goldfinch. Nests may be used during the winter by mice seeking a comfortable place to sleep. If you find a nest that has a "cover", you may discover a sleeping mice inside!
You may want to know which bird made which nest,
and here are a few clues that I compiled from information in Donald
Stokes', GUIDE TO NATURE IN WINTER.
1. Nests containing a layer of mud, inside diameter 4 inches -
Robin: lined with grass, no leaves or sticks
Wood thrush: lined with rootlets, leaves in foundation
Grackle: lined with grass, weed stalks and sticks in foundation
2. Large bulky nest with twig & bark foundation, thick inner lining of dark rootlets
Catbird, Mockingbird, Brown Thrasher: all similar. The Catbird may add cellophane!
Cardinal: no leaves in foundation, lined with grass, not rootlets.
3. Small nests, neatly formed of grasses, usually lover than 3 feet off the ground, or on the ground.
Sparrows (Song, Chipping, Field). Often in Spirea (Meadowsweet), may include fish line or horse hair.
4. Small, nearly formed nests, often in crotches of saplings or shrubs with soft lining of thistledown or milkweed (gray).
Redstart, Yellow Warbler, Goldfinch, Flycatchers. Some may have thick, sturdy walls.
5. Hanging Baskets, suspended from tips of branches.
Oriole - This bird is a knot maker!
6. Small nests neatly suspended at rim to a forking branch, 3 in. in diameter.
Vireos - Found at any height in the woods, woven with plant fibers and lined with pine needles and fine grasses.
7. Holes - small
Chickadees, Titmice, Nuthatch, Wren, Swallows, Woodpeckers
8. Holes - large
Owls, Wood Ducks, Kestrels
9. Big Bulky Nests
Osprey, Hawks, Eagles, Owls
OK. Now you have the tools and can go on a bird nest hunt. Incidentally, you won't find a Gannet's bird nest. They breed in dense colonies on a few islands off Newfoundland, in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and off Nova Scotia. Unlike the nests described above, Gannets gather dried seaweed for a shallow nest built on a precipitous cliff or on a high bluff. Each to his own.......
11/11/02 Ronnie (still in her Maine nest!).