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All posts for the month June, 2011

By Derek Stoner, Conservation Project Coordinator

On Saturday, June 18, our class from the Naturalist Certification Series visited Coverdale Farm Preserve for a bird walk.  Lots of great birds gave us plenty to appreciate, from Orchard Orioles to Indigo Buntings to Yellow Warblers. 

The Ruby-throated Hummingbird nestling sits high in the nest, in the final day before fledgling. This is the last photograph of this bird in the nest. Image by Derek Stoner, June 18, 2011.

But the star of the show was the baby Ruby-throated Hummingbird, sitting in the nest where for the past three weeks he (or she?) has grown up on a branch of a Sycamore tree.  Our group of curious onlookers gawked at the hummingbird 20 feet above our heads.  With beak held apart, it appeared that the hummingbird was panting to keep cool in the late morning heat.   

Everyone enjoyed the thrill of seeing the “baby” in its nest, and we had to look carefully to realize that this was indeed the youngster and not one of the adults sitting on the nest.  The slightly shorter beak and speckly plumage on throat convinced us of its age– a mere 19 or 20 days!

I told our group that the hummingbird would likely fly away and leave the nest for good within a day or two.  Sure enough, this morning(June 20) when I went to check one final time, the nest was empty.  Through monitoring the nest over the course of five weeks and a total of five visits, I’d grown accustomed to excitement of seeing something alive within the nest.  I feel honored to be able to document such an interesting sequence of events in the development of a hummingbird, from egg to fledging stage.  I hope you enjoyed the show as much as I did!

By Derek Stoner, Conservation Project Coordinator

A male Ruby-throated Hummingbird hovering at Ashland Nature Center. Photo by Amber Wible, June 16, 2011.

As we celebrate Father’s Day today, here is a perfect image to illustrate the day: a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird in full color!  Male birds often are more colorful than females, and male hummingbirds in particular are known for their brilliant colors.

Hummingbirds are known for their iridescent feathers, and the throats of male Ruby-throated Hummingbirds give the species its name.  This colorful patch of specialized feathers is known as the gorget, and in the right light, makes the throat look like a blazing red ember.

This wonderful photograph was taken this past week in the Outdoor Images and Moviemaking summer camp by Amber Wible, a fourteen-year-old with great talent for photography.  Certainly her father can be proud of her skills!

By Derek Stoner, Conservation Project Coordinator 

A Ruby-throated Hummingbird nestling, about 15 days old, in its nest at Coverdale Farm Preserve. Image by Derek Stoner, June 15, 2011.

On June 15, I visited the Ruby-throated Hummingbird nest at Coverdale Farm for the third Wednesday in a row.  At this point, the nestling hummingbird is an estimated 15-16 days old and looks much more like an adult hummingbird.   The beak looks to have grown an additional quarter-inch in one week.  Notice the bit of yellow color in the corner of the hummingbird’s beak (the gape flange) that is a common feature of young birds.

The nestling Ruby-throated Hummingbird in mostly-adult plumage, but still showing a few tufts of down feathers on its back and tail. Image by Derek Stoner, June 15, 2011.

In the past week, the pin feathers on the hummingbird’s back grew out and are now fully-formed feathers exhibiting the classic iridescent greenish-gold hue of an adult hummingbird.  There are just a  few remaining buff-colored down feathers on the uppertail coverts, soon to be dropped as the tail feathers grow out and the bird prepares for its first flight. 

Stay tuned for one final update on the hummingbird, before it fledges and makes its first flight!

By Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Programs Team Leader and Bob Strahorn, Delmarva Ornithological Society

On May 27, 2011, I conducted a Breeding Bird Atlas survey with Bob Strahorn and Carol Majors for the State of Delaware.  We walked and drove around block 21, which is south of Newark to find evidence of breeding birds.  After birding around the Cooch-Dayett Mills property along the Christina River, we drove past Glasgow High School and noticed Purple Martins flying around the parking lot.  We stopped and did not see any martin houses, and quickly realized they were going in and out of street lamps.

Purple Martins were seen swarming around street lamps at the Glasgow High School. Photo by Bob Strahorn

The downward-facing glass globes looked like they were broken by rock-throwing teenagers or perhaps angry, venting teachers at the school.  At any rate, the vandals created perfect nest sites for the Purple Martins.  Usually in our area, Purple Martins use houses and artificial nest boxes put up for them.  Historically, they nested in rock crevices, old woodpecker holes, and other such cavities.  Many still use these natural cavities out west, but in eastern North America, they are almost completely found nesting in non-natural “martin apartments”.

Here, a male Purple Martin proudly perches on the nest pole with the female incubating inside. I wonder what happens if the lights still work!? Photo by Bob Strahorn

If you conduct a quick google search, you can easily see that Purple Martins are known to do this on occasion, but none of us had ever seen it, or heard of it happening in Delaware.  The oldest record I could find references Purple Martins nesting in electric arc-light caps in Vergennes, Vt in 1897.  (Auk, Vol. XIV, 1897).  Obviously they figured this out long ago, but it is still really interesting to see how adaptable this species is.  Having trouble attracting them to your property?  Maybe this method will work for you!

Another Purple Martin nesting in a broken street lamp, Glasgow High School, DE. Photo by Bob Strahorn

In all, we think there were four pair at this site, plus a pair or two of European Starling using other broken street lamps.  The Delaware Nature Society will be contacting the school to see if they would consider installing a martin box to expand the colony next year.