Now that the nesting season is in full swing, the birds nesting in our backyards face formidable odds trying to fledge their young. As we all know, many nesting attempts end in failure due the fact predators eat both eggs and young.
A list of the better-known nest predators includes crows, blue jays, raccoons, rat snakes, and opossums. However, there are a number of other animals that also eat eggs and/or nestlings. For example, would you believe deer mice, flying squirrels, and eastern chipmunks also raid bird nests?
I find it amazing that cardinals, mockingbirds, bluebirds, and other backyard nesters are able to raise as many young as they do.
Up until a few decades ago, biologists believed that as many as 93 percent of songbird families practiced monogamy. However, since the development of DNA fingerprinting in the 1980s, we now know some birds that appear to be devoted mates will stray.
This earth-shattering realization came about quickly. For example, by 2002, researchers discovered that up until that time a meager 14 percent of the songbirds tested were truly monogamous. Research has shown 19 percent of the nests of supposed monogamous birds are home to at least one nestling that was sired by a father different from the rest of its nest mates.
A few of the backyard birds that are promiscuous are the eastern bluebird, ruby-throated hummingbird, house finch, and red-winged blackbird.
It would appear that some of our backyard feathered neighbors live soap opera lives.
Have you ever given any thought of trying to provide nesting hummingbirds with a source of nesting material? I must admit while I have placed pieces of cotton in a wire suet feeder in the spring hoping it might be used by nesting birds, I never considered the possibility the white fibers might be used by a ruby-throated hummingbird. However, three events have caused me to change my mind.
Several years ago, I presented a hummingbird program to a garden club in southwest Georgia that met in the home of one of its members. While I was setting up my projector and screen, the host asked me if I ever heard of a hummingbird using cotton to build a nest. I told her although I had not, I could see how hummingbirds might incorporate cotton in a nest.
She then went on the explain that she had seen a female hummer collect cotton in her backyard. It seems she planted a cotton seed in a pot that sat near her house. The seed germinated and grew into a healthy plant festooned with balls of cotton. Since the plant looked attractive, she left it in pot throughout the winter.
The following spring while she was standing in her living room, looking out across her patio a female hummingbird flew down, plucked some cotton fibers from a cotton ball, and flew up to a nearby tree. The bird repeated this behavior several times. Although she never actually saw the bird using the cotton to build a nest, she surmised that is what the little bird was doing.
I was reminded of this homeowner’s experience last week when I received an email from a man relating that he had witnessed a female hummingbird collect a bit of cotton from a suet feeder filled with cotton batting. This prompted him to search for a nest. Remarkably, his efforts paid off and he discovered a hummingbird nest close by.
Earlier this week I mentioned this event to a cousin. He was so intrigued by the story he went out and bought a wire suet feeder, filled it with cotton, and hung it out near his home. Unbelievably before the sun set he spotted a female hummer pulling strands of cotton from the feeder. Now he is looking for a nest.
With this kind of success, perhaps this is something we should all try. Even though a hummingbird might not avail itself of the cotton we offer, chances are other nesting birds will.