Migration gets most of the press, but from the actual bird’s perspective, breeding is the main event. The hustle and bustle of spring is in aim of reproduction. All the singing, the bright new plumage, the travel and tribulations, they are all ultimately just for getting some DNA from an existing bird into a brand new bird. It’s sort of like a giant sand painting moving four-dimensionally. Except when it’s not.
Mother’s Day seemed like a good time to check up on how all that’s going. So I headed down to my usual stomping grounds at Prospect Park to have a look around.
The birds who didn’t have to migrate have a head start, naturally. A couple of Canada Geese were trailing downy young, and at one of the five Robin nests I’ve located, an eager parent was coughing up bits of partially digested worm. The other Robins were all incubating, so whether they have eggs or chicks was impossible to tell. I also heard the tell-tale cries of young Pigeons and Starlings, which is hard to get too enthusiastic about; but I am not here to editorialize, merely to report. (I have heard, but did not verify, that at least one nest of Red-tailed Hawks in the park has hatchlings as well.)
Less fortunate were the Mourning Doves. I had spotted two nests in my previous rambles this spring, one under construction and one being incubated. This trip found both of them gone. Perhaps the week’s persistent rainstorms knocked them down.
The birds who wintered warmly, on the other hand, are still catching up with the demands of staking out territory and building a nest. My favorite observation of the day was a Green Heron gathering twigs in the Lullwater as I watched for several minutes. S/he was being very picky, trying this branch and that branch, not succeeding in getting many to break off at the length desired. You can’t help but be impressed by the amount of effort expended for a very uncertain reward, year after year down countless generations.
The Baltimore Orioles have, if anything, even more intricate nest-building work to do, but the ones I saw were chiefly occupied with sitting in the canopy yelling challenges and insults at each other in melodic form. Likewise, the Yellow-rumped Warblers were still ubiquitous and very vocal, although many of them have a long way to go before they’re on their breeding territories. The recently-arrived American Redstarts, both male and female, were also singing even though they won’t breed in Prospect Park as far as anyone knows. The single Blackpoll and abundant Black-and-white, the Black-throated Blue, the (not yet very vocal) Ovenbirds and the skulking Common Yellowthroats – they’ll all head for points north before they get down to business, preferring to raise their kids in a quieter neighborhood. Some of the Eastern Kingbirds that arrived en masse this week might stick around, though, and so might the Warbling Vireo.
Less than fifty species of bird are actually confirmed to breed in Prospect Park. This year a new breeding bird survey is taking place, under the auspices of the New York City Audubon Society: information can be found here.