The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Outdoors

May 11, 2014

Nesting birds are establishing their territory

CAMERON — Almost overnight the old field below the house has greened up, and birds have set up nesting territories. Bluebirds were the first to lay eggs because the nest box protects the eggs from the elements. Within just a few weeks, however, field sparrows, indigo buntings, white-eyed vireos, and cardinals have also established territories.

Native sparrows often place their first nest of the year on the ground. There’s really little choice if they hope to hide it from predators. Woody vegetation is still leafing out, so the best cover is on the ground under tufts of dead grass entwined with new growth. In one published account describing 173 field sparrow nests in May, 135 were on the ground. In July, none of 240 nests were on the ground.

An early nest is one way to avoid a variety of snakes that devour eggs and chicks. If these birds can fledge one brood before snakes get too active, the nesting season is more likely to be successful.

I was hardly surprised to find a field sparrow nest just off one of the trails because a male has been defending a territory since early April. Its rusty crown, pale orange bill, and wing bars made identification easy. The male’s song, a series of whistles that accelerates into a trill much like a ping pong ball bouncing on a table, is also distinctive.

I resisted the urge to find the nest because I didn’t want to accidentally step on it and crush the eggs.

After hearing an indigo bunting sing, I turned my attention to a multiflora rose thicket. The brambles form an almost impenetrable barrier, so I just watched and listened.

Male indigos are easy to find and even easier to recognize. They sing a complicated song consisting of a series of double notes from high atop exposed perches. They want to be seen. And no other bird shares its deep metallic blue body.

Female indigos, on the other hand, are drab, secretive little brown birds. I knew I’d never be able to find the bunting nest in this thicket, but I must have been close. The female suddenly appeared and scolded me. Her alarm notes attracted her mate’s attention, and he joined in the nest’s defense. I took the hint and left to search for a white-eyed vireo singing on the other side of the field.  

At a glance, vireos resemble warblers, but vireos are duller, heavier, and have a stouter bill. The tip of the bill is slightly hooked for subduing struggling insect prey.

Another common trait is that vireos suspend their nests from the forks of small branches or twigs. But it’s not a hanging basket like an oriole nest; it’s simply a suspended cup, usually woven with fine plant fibers and spider silk. Find such a cup, and you’ve found a vireo nest.

Though vireos can be difficult to see, the white-eyed vireo stays closer to the ground and sometimes sings from exposed perches above dense vegetation. Look for white-eyes along forest edges and overgrown old fields. Field marks to note include olive green body, two white wing bars, yellow spectacles and white irises.

I never found the nest, but the male sang persistently so it had to be nearby. Its song is loud, emphatic, and not particularly musical. I learned it as, “Chick! Chick-a-per-whir! Chick!” but I prefer the phrasing included in some field guides: “Quick! Pick up the beer check! Quick!”

Finally I turned my attention to the male cardinal that had been singing all morning. I noticed the much drabber female slink from a blackberry bush, and sure enough, the nest contained two eggs. I suspect she would lay three more eggs over the next three days to complete the clutch.

A cardinal song is easy to recognize because it always includes slurred whistles. “What cheer! What cheer!” or “Purdy, purdy, purdy,” are just two of many familiar phrases that help identify cardinals by sound.

Finding a cardinal nest always gives me hope. After raising a brood, parent cardinals escort their brood to my feeding station. Then the elders introduce the young to their favorite fast food — sunflower seeds.

— Dr. Scott Shalaway can be heard 8 to 10 a.m. Saturdays on 1370 WVLY-AM (Wheeling) or online at www.watchdognetwork.com. Visit Scott’s web site www.drshalawaycom or contact him directly at sshalaway@aol.com or 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.

1
Text Only
Outdoors
  • Some books for the rest of summer

    Stretching out in a hammock with a good book is a great way to relax on a warm summer afternoon. Here are a few titles that have recently caught my eye.

    July 27, 2014

  • Creating a week to remember

    After my traveling shoes were placed neatly beside the door, it was time to spend some much needed time around home.

    July 27, 2014

  • There are some changes on the way

    Hunters who have found themselves driving out of their way to check in a deer, turkey, or bear will no longer have to waste the time or gas starting in 2015. 

    July 27, 2014

  • The cure for the summertime blues: Go camping

    In case you haven’t noticed we are looking right down the gun barrel at winding down on another summer.

    July 26, 2014

  • 071714 Coda and Callie.jpg Coda and Callie’s excellent adventure

    How is it something that you profess to love so much can cause you so much anxiety and grief? No, I’m not talking about dealing with your children (or your spouse). This is worse. This is about dogs. More specifically, hunting dogs. 

    July 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • 071314 Chris Ellis.jpg DNR’s ‘outdoor summer school’

    Attention all West Virginia hunters and trappers. It is once again time for outdoor summer school and the course materials are hot off the presses.

    July 13, 2014 1 Photo

  • Meet the Eurasian collared-dove

    Back in 1974 a local pigeon fancier imported a flock of about 50 Eurasian collared-doves to the Bahamas. Ultimately he released the birds, and they took to living in the West Indies. By the late 1970s some had reached south Florida, and by the late 1980s, some had been seen in Georgia and Arkansas.

    July 13, 2014

  • July in W.Va.: Recreational opportunities abound

    It’s July in the West Virginia mountains, which brings vibrant orange tiger lilies, blooming rhododendron, and of course fireworks. Usually the heat and humidity is in full force, but so far the weather has been nice.

    July 13, 2014

  • Shotgun 101: Shoot more and live better

    “God is not on the side of big battalions, but on the side of those who shoot best.”
    — Voltaire

    July 9, 2014

  • Fireflies are living lights

    At recent Fourth of July fireworks displays, spectators squealed with delight at the annual spectacle that illuminated the night sky. And I’m sure more than a few compared the spectacular pyrotechnics to the subtler displays of fireflies that punctuate backyards, parks, and campgrounds all summer long. We call these displays “nature’s fireworks.”

    July 5, 2014

Web Special Sections
  • Special Web Sections

    Click HERE for stories about natural gas and Marcellus shale gas extraction.

    Click HERE for stories about the Upper Big Branch mine disaster.

    Click HERE for stories about the passing of U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd.

    Click HERE for stories from The Greenbrier Classic PGA TOUR event.

    August 6, 2010

Helium debate
Helium
AP Video
Obama Chides House GOP for Pursuing Lawsuit New Bill Aims to Curb Sexual Assault on Campus Russia Counts Cost of New US, EU Sanctions 3Doodler Bring 3-D Printing to Your Hand Six PA Cops Indicted for Robbing Drug Dealers Britain Testing Driverless Cars on Roadways Raw: Thousands Flocking to German Crop Circle At Least 20 Chikungunya Cases in New Jersey Raw: Obama Eats Ribs in Kansas City In Virginia, the Rise of a New Space Coast Raw: Otters Enjoy Water Slides at Japan Zoo NCAA Settles Head-injury Suit, Will Change Rules Raw: Japanese Soldiers Storm Beach in Exercises Raw: Weapons Fire Hits UN School in Gaza Raw: Rocket Launches Into Space With Cargo Ship Broken Water Main Floods UCLA Two Women Narrowly Avoid Being Hit by Train Crayola Announces Family Attraction in Orlando