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Usual summer birds flock to feeders with their young

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By Sylvia Brockner

The next few weeks of late July and early August are not the most exciting time in the bird world. Although a few early fall migrants will drift through, there is no big movement of birds.

I still have red crossbills coming to the feeder with young, so I have had a good chance to study all their various plumage. They are truly beautiful birds that vary in color, especially the adult males that range from yellow to orange to light red to dark red.

The intensity of the color varies depending upon the light. If the bird is in the shade, it appears dark and rather nondescript. If the sun is behind you and shining upon the bird, it will change to the brilliant, sparkling color of strawberry juice.

August is usually the time to learn about shorebirds. Usually the reservoirs are drawn down with summer irrigation but this year with the late runoff from last winter’s snow in the high country and the current rainy summer, the reservoirs are nearly full. This means no mudflats along the edges for shorebirds, so you may have to look for them in other places where there has been standing water such as along stream banks and wet muddy fields, most anywhere that there has been standing water.

Shorebirds are difficult. Identification often necessitates seeing the shape and color of the bill, the color of legs and other details that require good light, good binoculars and endless patience.

Steller’s jays that have not been at my feeders for weeks now have finally begun to return. One might think they are migrants that move north in the spring. Not so. The Steller’s jay, like most jays, is very shy and silent around its nest. From the time they begin to build until they fledge their young and acquire a new molt of feathers, jays make themselves silent and secret. Although they may have a nest in or near your yard, you probably won’t even know they are there. They slip in and out early in the day and then sit quietly all day long.

Even the young seem quieter in the nest, not begging for food as loudly as many young birds do. When the young are able to leave the nest, the adults take them off to more remote areas for a few weeks. This is a time for the young to grow more new plumage, perfect their ability to fly, find their own food, in other words, grow up.

Meanwhile, the adults are molting their old worn feathers and growing new. They too are vulnerable to predators until their new flight feathers have grown in so they want to hide out too. Last week, I had one Steller’s jay at my feeder. It either had not found enough native food or it just had a yen for some sunflower seeds for it was obviously still molting, looked horribly scruffy and was at my black oil sunflower seed feeder eating as rapidly as it could. It then carried off a big mouthful of seed, and I haven’t seen it since. In another week or two they will be back bringing their young to learn all about the wonders of feeders. In another week or so, they will be fully molted and back to their noisy, boisterous selves, ready to mooch sunflower seeds all winter.

Downy and hairy woodpeckers also nest here and have just brought their scruffy young to the feeders this past week. The young are big as the adults for they already have grown new feathers while the adults, like the jays, are just getting theirs. They look a bit short-tailed but soon will have their new feathers grown in and be their usual neat black and white.

Male hairy woodpeckers have a red patch on the back of their heads; the females do not. If you have a hairy woodpecker, which has a red spot just behind and above the bill on the front of its head, it is not some unusual bird but just a young hairy that has not quite shed all its juvenile plumage. This is a feeding device so the adults can more easily find their mouths. However, this disappears with their first molt, and they then have red at the nape of their neck as the adults do.

July is usually drier than August, but it has been very wet this year. I wonder if August will be wet also for if it is, we will have more moisture this summer than we have had for many years. Watch for fall migrant birds at the lake and other places during August and early September.

My name was inadvertently left out of the phone book in the newest edition, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want people to call me. I do, but just let it ring long enough for me to get to the phone. I love to hear from you and learn what you are seeing. My number is the same one I have had for years and is in the old book.

Don’t forget August is fringed gentian time in South Park. With all the rain we have had this year, it should be a great year for gentians. There are many in the roadside ditches. Please don’t trespass on private property. If you stop and ask, they will usually give you permission.