nature 04.05 jay

Nature is waking up and is on the move everywhere I turn. Standing in my back yard the other morning with the dog, who was taking care of some important business, I watched a starling stuff its bill with old grasses and fly off across the street. It was obviously setting up a little homestead somewhere. A robin has begun singing from the holly trees each morning before the sun gets up, and at the beach, all the gulls are in their finest, brightest breeding plumage.

Crows are active, and as the smaller birds begin to declare and defend territory, they sometimes pick an argument or two with a neighboring crow. As you may know, crows are nest marauders, so the smaller birds have every right to want them to stay far away.

One recent day, there was a big flap of wings outside my window. It was a small group of crows, flapping lazily from branch to branch. They were near a pine that crows nested in two years ago and which the neighborhood birds chased them away from last year. As you might imagine, when the crows nested there, they caused mayhem for all the other nesting birds in the neighborhood. It wasn’t pretty, and, frankly, I was glad they were chased off.

As I watched this time, a group of grackles arrived, noisily demanding that the crows leave. Some jays joined them, and soon there was quite a ruckus. The crows flew off, flapping their wings as if they had all the time in the world. It took a while for the other birds to calm down. They were so worked up that they barged at everything else they could see within their reach. Not even others of their own kind were safe from their fury.

The smaller birds stayed silent, content to watch from the safety of their chosen perches, and it was only when the grackles and jays took off after a hawk that they resumed their feeder visits. One cardinal claimed the feeder, letting the other male cardinals know that they were not welcome to share. A young male, still not fully plumaged in his red regalia, decided to brave the ire of the older male but was quickly chased off. He was undaunted and tried several times more until the prevailing male got all puffed up and chased him all the way out of the yard, across the street and out of sight behind a neighbor’s house. The elder bird returned, and the females feeding on the ground below pretended not to notice. Who knows? Perhaps they were having one of those private cardinal discussions. Was he brave? Was he a jerk? One flew up to join him on the feeder, where he gently fed her a seed. They flew off together to a nearby shrub where cardinals have nested in other years. The other ladies just kept eating, probably wondering where that young stud had gone off to.

It’s a little early for nesting for some species, but those that start early get a good jump on the season. Some species will have two, even three, families before the summer is out. One disadvantage to early nesting—for smaller birds especially—is that we’re not done with cold weather yet, which doesn’t always work out well. Food sources can still be scarce, and cold, wet weather takes a toll on both the parent and baby birds.

Foxes and coyotes are being seen patrolling in the daytime. Don’t be alarmed unless they are acting really strangely or aggressively. Many of our mammals aren’t as nocturnal as they once were. They now hunt in full daylight and can be seen at any time of day. They are looking for food to feed little ones back in the den. This is not a good time to let the kitties play outdoors.

Turkeys are strutting their stuff pretty much everywhere. I saw one big male stop a car the other day, and then threaten it, puffing out its chest and marching back and forth, gobbling all the while. The driver honked the horn, but the turkey just got even more assertive. Gradually, female turkeys appeared, and he wandered away to find true love of a feathered—not a metallic—kind.

Spring is here, and the flapping and fury of mating season is in full throttle. Enjoy the show. It doesn’t last for long.

Mary Richmond is an artist, writer, naturalist, and educator who grew up on the Cape and lives in Hyannis. More information at www.capecodartandnature.com.

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