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What's in Flight

July 2018

Peak nesting season for birds in New York is June and July.  By now, many avians are already tending their second brood. ‘Robins can have as many as four or five nests a year,’ says Robyn Bailey, project leader of NestWatch at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. ‘Each nest can have up to five eggs. But not every nest is successful.’


Birds, like humans, have location preferences for their homes. The avian penthouse dwellers, those who pick out the upper most branches in the tree canopy, include the orioles, blue jays, crows, ravens and warblers. ‘Orioles have one of the most complex woven nests. They weave a pouch that resembles a hanging sock,’ says Bailey. The beautiful Baltimore Oriole migrates here from the tropics. If you see a flash of orange in the trees, it is quite likely a male with his flaming orange chest, shoulders and rump. The females have a more discreet yellow-brown face and upper parts.

Baltimore Oriole and Nest

Barry Kant via Nest Watch

It’s a common misperception that birds only nest in trees. In fact low down on the ground, among shrubs and plants, is a favorite spot for many birds. ‘They survive through camouflage. Hiding in plain sight,’ says Bailey adding: ‘the song sparrows like to be anywhere from ground level to 15 feet high and preferably near water.’  It’s vital these ground nests aren’t touched. Good practice this time of year is to avoid disturbing the shrubbery with balls and pets.

House Sparrow Chick

Nancy Ward

The easiest place in Carl Schurz Park to spot nestlings (the name for the tiniest chicks still in their nest) is with a good pair of eyes or binoculars looking up at holes in the London Plane trees along the 86th Street walkway, (also called the Cherry Allee). Tiny beaks can sometimes be seen peeping out. ‘Chicks have differently colored beaks from their parents – often with yellow or white flanges edging the rim. It’s a signal to the parents to put food in there,’ says Bailey

Nest of Robins

Martin Chroust-Masin via Nest Watch

Ground Nest Baby Song Sparrow

Christine Haines via Nest Watch

This month the park is full of fledglings -  baby chicks who are learning to fly and fend for themselves. ‘They are a little clumsy and awkward,’ says Bailey. ‘They often look like they don’t know where they are.’  And they have a slightly chubby appearance with shorter tails and wing feathers than their parents. The baby robin has a speckled breast (unlike the red breast of the adult robin). And the baby grackle (a type of blackbird) looks like a gray puffball, a far cry from the glossy black and iridescent plumage of its parents.

Robin and Fledgling

Nancy Ward

Fledgling Tufted-Titmouse

Alyssa Karmann via Nest Watch

Words: Lucie Young

Images:  Nancy Ward, and also via Nest Watch – Martin Chroust-Masin, Alyssa Karmann, Christine Haines and Barry Kant


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