It is sad to report that the song sparrow nest met with ill fate.
On Sunday, June 22, Linda called me to say there were three young in the nest. We were all thrilled at the news, although I am still confused about when the eggs were laid. Apparently, they were laid earlier than we had thought. The female diligently fed the young that day, but on Monday, June 3, the young were gone from the nest. Only two unhatched eggs remained. Apparently some predator found the nest during the night or early morning. What it was, we do not know, but the nest was vulnerable, easily reached by squirrel, raccoon and domestic cat, as well as crow, magpie, jay or other critters. The adult birds abandoned the nest when they found the young gone. The male no longer sings his almost constant song from the aspen trees. The nursery is sadly silent. However, it is early enough in the season that they may have a second nest and perhaps will try again in some more natural location along Bear Creek without so many people around. However, I admire her taste in choosing a pot of purple penstemons for her nest site.
This is the peak of the bird-breeding season, and nests, eggs and baby birds are everywhere. We have a great many native predators in the wild that make life difficult for birds, but domestic house cats, your beloved pets, make things even more difficult for baby birds. There are far more domestic cats in most areas than there are wild predators, and it is their natural instinct to hunt. So, please give young birds a chance by keeping your cat inside, especially for the next month or two. It is also much safer for your cat. Mountain lions and coyotes roam our forest, and cats are definitely on their menu.
Another predator that few people think of as a threat to their cat is the great horned owl. These big owls now have young that are just about ready to fly. Two parents and two to three nearly grown young require a considerable amount of food. Therefore, for your cat’s sake, keep him inside at night at least through the summer. Young great horned owls that haven’t fully developed their hunting skills will find a gentle domestic cat far easier to take than a quick-footed rabbit, a wily young fox or a prickly porcupine. If you love your cat, keep it inside where it is safe.
Now, to more cheerful news. The first rufous hummingbirds have returned on their southward journey from as far north as Alaska. The first report was from Tena and Ed Engleman at their feeder 4 miles northeast of Estes Park on Sunday, June 22. The first local report was from Inga Brennan on Tuesday, June 24, at her feeder in Genesee Crossing. These reports are a bit later than last year but are again far earlier than they used to arrive in the past, which was normally around July 4th. So put up some extra feeders, for once rufous has arrived, war is declared. This brilliant new copper-penny-colored hummingbird is very possessive and will try to chase all comers from “his” feeders. The best way to defeat his greediness is to put up more feeders placed in different locations so that he cannot see all of them all of the time.
It seems like the last snow just melted and spring just disappeared, but actually fall is on the way. June 20 was the summer solstice that marked the longest day of the year, but it also means that from now on each day is becoming shorter; thus we have started the long slide into winter.
The spring migration has just ended, but already the fall migration has started. Rufous hummingbirds are one of the first fall migrants. Since the males do not help raise the young, they leave early and leisurely move south along the mountains, which leaves plenty of wildflowers available for the females and young to feed on. After the young are feeding themselves, the females leave and, still later, when they have put on enough weight to make the flight, the young leave. By themselves, they migrate as far south as Central America without road maps and reach the same area where their parents have already arrived to spend the winter. The world is full of amazing cycles of life, ever changing, yet so constant that we mark them on our calendars.