There are over 700 bird species that breed in North America. This past spring, many species in New Mexico began the yearly ritual of establishing nesting territories and choosing a mate in order to raise a family. Some of these species will have more than one brood of young in the summer nesting season. That means lots of baby birds and now is the time to watch for these young birds in your backyard, city parks and just about everywhere you go.
Most male birds have courtship displays that can include, singing, elaborate flight patterns and food offerings to prospective female partners. In my yard I have seen the male roadrunner bow its head and wag its tail from side to side while offering a female a mouse, snail and sometimes even a stick or a small piece of trash. Male woodpeckers really know how to catch a female’s attention by “drumming”. This is when the woodpecker repetitively hits its beak on a surface. I have seen and heard woodpeckers drum on telephone poles, the side of a buildings and even a metal dumpster.
Once mated, birds need some essentials in order to successfully raise a family. These include food, water, suitable nest sites and protection from predators. Once the nest is built, the female lays the eggs and is mainly responsible for incubating the eggs until hatched. With most birds the larger the bird the longer the incubation time.
Most songbird’s offspring are hatched featherless and defenseless. They remain in the nest being fed by the parents until they are able to fledge. Not all young birds are able to fly when they leave the nest. It is not uncommon to see young birds hopping around on the ground squawking for a parent to come and feed them. This may last for 2-4 days until they can fly on their own. Some birds, like shorebirds and quail are precocial, which means they are able to feed on their own often only hours after hatching. In New Mexico watch for scaled and Gambel’s quail adults to have up to a dozen or more youngsters in tow.
Unfortunately, most birds are quite vulnerable and their young have a 50% mortality rate in their first year. A few simple things that we can do to help the birds include reducing or eliminating the use of common pesticides, providing food, and planting native, bird friendly plants.
Mary Schmauss is the owner of Wild Birds Unlimited in Albuquerque. A lifelong birder and author of “For the Birds: A Month-by-Month Guide to Attracting Birds to your Backyard.”