If Spring brings courting birds, claiming territories and wooing mates with beautiful songs, July is the month of nestlings. Nature, in her efforts to reproduce herself, takes advantage of the abundance of food produced by a fruitful summer. A recent trip to the southwest parts of El Paso county (Colorado) confirmed that this has been a fruitful summer indeed. Everywhere we looked yielded an abundance of hungry nestlings and frenetic parents trying to keep up with the demand for food.
Our first stop, at Bear Creek county park, took us to a patient Broad-tailed Hummingbird, sitting dutifully on her nest. While the branch was over our heads—too high for a peek into the tiny cup-like nest—we guessed that the eggs hadn’t hatched yet. Perhaps this was a second attempt to reproduce, somewhat late in the season.
While we were careful to use long lenses so as not to disturb our subject while we snapped our photos, the bird ignored us, sitting solidly on her nest with the concentration only a dedicated parent can have. I look forward to checking back soon, to see if anything has changed.
Next, we headed to Starsmore Nature Center in hopes of seeing more hummingbirds. We hadn’t even locked the parked car, however, when we were sidetracked by a loud, insistent chirping coming from a hole high up a cottonwood branch. Sure enough, a black and white, red-beanie-wearing head poked out the hole—a male downy woodpecker nestling demanding dinner. Mom soon appeared, bug in beak. But no sooner had she pushed the beetle into her son’s craw when his protruding head was replaced by his sister’s, equally hungry. It took both parents making trip after trip to the tree to keep their progeny at least partly content.
While we were snapping photos of the woodpeckers, we noticed another, similarly-sized hole further up the branch. We re-aimed our cameras and soon caught a tree sparrow flying off to find food for its hungry brood.
Tree sparrows were also present at our third stop, a friend’s house south of town along Hwy. 115. Instead of a tree cavity, they had build their nest in a bluebird house. The babies must have been a little older, and hungrier, than the ones at Starsmore. They were just as demanding as the woodpeckers had been. Again, it took both parents to provide enough food for their hungry youngsters.
Our friend mentioned that she’d seen Prairie Falcons nesting in the nearby red rocks, so we headed off to see. Sure enough. A well-used nest was precariously positioned on a shallow ledge, protected from the elements by an overhead arch. Two young falcons were waiting for a meal to arrive. They were much more polite, merely standing quietly at the edge of the ledge. The poignant look on their faces was more than enough to convince any parent of their need for food.
When their supper did arrive in the shape of a dead rodent, they lost their gracious ways and aggressively assaulted it, both grabbing and pulling with much flapping of wings, until the prey was first in shreds, then consumed. They would have no problem hunting for their own meals in the months and years ahead.
While we were perched on the opposite canyon wall watching the falcons, we noticed a smaller bird nearby emerge from a similarly-sized hole in the sandstone. It seems the Canyon Wren was also nesting in the red rocks. It must have been the male, because he took time out of his foraging to serenade us with his hauntingly beautiful, cascading song.
We didn’t see any lifers that day, but we didn’t care at all. It was every bit as rewarding to watch these familiar birds go about their lives—finding a home, raising a family, making a living just like the rest of us.