Keeping the nest clean is a pretty big deal. Some large raptors are able to defend their nest from nearly anything, so it doesn’t matter how messy they are. Not so for our grassland birds. They are ill-equipped to fight back against most predators, and fare much better when they’re able to go unnoticed. Dirty nests could smell strongly, and attract curious - and hungry! - mammalian predators.
Now that the chicks have hatched, they are in almost constant need of food. Grassland bird chicks generally fledge in about 10 days, and their growth rates are incredible. Parents must balance all of their chicks’ needs - food, thermoregulation, protection from predators, and shelter- to maximize their chances of survival.
Grassland bird nests are just about my favorite things ever. They’re perfect little secrets hiding in the foliage, holding precious babes. I love the way they are often fairly similar, but have subtle differences that let you identify who built them. (Sparrows are my favorite group of birds, which might explain why I love small brown things that look alike!) Nest searching is tricky business too -- and it feels like an incredible accomplishment when you find one.
We all have a scene that pops into our heads when we think of ‘grassland birds’. Maybe you simply think of the birds themselves. Perhaps you see sunlight glistening on dewy prairie, while a northern harrier floats a few feet above the grass. Do you hear a dawn chorus of bobolinks and eastern meadowlarks punctuated by the quiet whisper of Henslow’s sparrow? Whatever image you conjure, I imagine it warms your heart.