A lot of people really dislike - even hate - cowbirds. I get it. It can be hard to watch a small warbler trying to keep a huge cowbird chick fed, and it’s sad when host species eggs get destroyed. But objectively and unemotionally, cowbirds are amazing, smart, resilient, and cool. Their reproductive strategy allows them to produce many more offspring than the average bird. Hopefully by the end of this post, you’ll be thinking about cowbird behavior in a new light too.
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.
It's been a little bit since we've peeked Into the Nest of grassland birds. But not because of a lack of interesting stuff to talk about! We are working on a run down of everyone's favorite topic: poop; you won't want to miss the upcoming post on fecal sacs.
In the meantime, feast your eyes on these awesome eggs. The size, shape, color pattern are all unique to the species they come from. Learn more about how grassland birds lay their clutch of beautiful eggs in our Into the Nest post from May 31: There is nothing so beautiful as a bird's egg.
The birding world is blessed to have people with a variety of skills and interests, and a willingness to share them. Kerry Wilcox is a perfect example of this: he came to Madison Audubon with the idea to run a "Birding by Ear" field trip that was particularly geared for folks with visual impairments. His idea blossomed into a wonderful class that exceeded all of our expectations!
"I'd recently moved back to Wisconsin after a couple decades in California where I worked for the National Audubon Society as a biologist and was looking to get involved with the local Audubon chapter," said Kerry. "I'd also had a long time interest in birding by ear--in particular with people who had different levels of sightedness." So Kerry pitched that we partner with a local non-profit, the Wisconsin Council of the Blind and Visually Impaired, to host a meaningful, enriching class that opens up the birding world to those who might otherwise be unable to fully experience it.
The class was part of our new Audubon Naturalists Series, and had both an indoor and outdoor component, and the 20 participants learned a variety of songs, calls, and other identification cues -- as well as the importance of knowing when and where you are to help hone in on which potential species you can hear. Kerry took the lead on creating all class materials and pulling together a variety of resources for participants, with support from Madison Audubon and great partners at the Council.
We're so grateful to Kerry for being such a champion for birders of all varieties and an advocate for increasing accessibility to birding. We look forward to working with Kerry and the Council for another Birding by Ear class! To learn how you can volunteer with Madison Audubon, visit our volunteer page.
Written by Brenna Marsicek, Director of Communications
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.