For the Birds Radio Program: Summertime

Original Air Date: Aug. 3, 1989

What’s going on in Laura’s neighborhood this summer? (3:44) Date verified.

Audio missing


(Recording of a Evening Grosbeak)

It’s box elder seed time, and once again Evening Grosbeaks are back in my yard gorging on their preferred food and visiting my feeder. My favorite Port Wing Blue Jay Hater’s been getting at least a few grosbeaks just about all year—he doesn’t mind them at all, even though they’re far more greedy and rude than Blue Jays. I suppose the difference is that Grosbeaks sit down and eat at a feeder, cracking open the seeds one at a time, while jays stuff their throat pouches and fly off to eat the seeds later.

This time of year adult Evening Grosbeaks have green beaks. My theory is that the young birds use beak color to identify the adults, since the babies look a lot like adults but only the adults will feed them. Grosbeaks move about in large flocks, like extended families, and all the adults pitch in with childcare.

Northland lawn sprinklers have been running at full force lately, providing one of the most interesting bird shows around. In my yard Blue Jays sit on a tree branch right where the sprinkler hits full force every little while. Whenever the water comes toward them, they start squawking and flapping their wings in the water like little kids. They even allow their feathers to get plastered against their bodies like a child’s straggly wet hair after running through the sprinkler.

Robins do a lot of their worm hunting near running sprinklers—the question is whether they do it because the wet soil is soft or because the water cools them down. Robins take life much more seriously than jays do, so they almost certainly don’t just do it for the fun of it. Orioles and Brown Thrashers fly right through the water, and a couple of Mourning Doves sit on a tree just at the edge of the spray, where the mist cools them without soaking them like the jays. Birds don’t sweat, and so they have a much more difficult time cooling off in summer than they do keeping warm in winter. Some species conspicuously pant, especially grackles, but for the most part they just sit quietly in a tree during the hottest time of day.

So far I’ve had jays, Mourning Doves, goldfinches, grosbeaks, siskins, thrashers, catbirds, and Chipping and Song Sparrows frequenting my feeder this summer, and I may well be missing lots of other species, since I’m so busy taking care of baby birds this summer that I don’t have much time for looking out the window.

I’m also getting birds in my kids’ sandbox. House Sparrows use it for dustbathing, and sparrows and finches take grit in it. The neighborhood sparrows quickly cleaned me out of cotton, which I set out in small chunks in an old apple tree for birds to use in nest-building. Lots of birds have been coming to my birdbath all season. I have to clean it out every day, because even under the best of conditions it would get messy, and I have the worst condition—meaning I have some regular grackles. Grackles drop their babies’ fecal sacs into the bird bath regularly—no one knows why—and they also tend to instantly foul the water the moment they start bathing. There must be something nice to say about grackles–oh, yeah—they eat slugs. Otherwise they’d be pretty objectionable creatures. They are devoted parents, though that may not be so admirable since their babies all grow up to become grackles themselves.

Summer is a nice time to get to know a few birds well. Try it—you may like it.

(Recording of a Evening Grosbeak)

This is Laura Erickson, and this program has been “For the Birds.”