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  • Writer's pictureJohn Sterling Poole

Feathered Fathers

The teamwork through Nesting Season is a wonderful thing to witness!

Fatherhood is a beautiful thing. But it’s also a busy thing! Throughout Nesting Season, mother birds get a lot of attention, leaving the dads overlooked. With Father’s Day right around the corner, we thought we should appreciate the father birds and all the hard work they do! We’ll also talk about some easy ways to make their lives easier!

First, let’s talk about relationships. A lot of birds are monogamous for life (such as pigeons, geese, barn owls, and bald eagles) while a few others are not so tied down. Evolutionarily speaking, a creatures purpose is to procreate. Therefore, males are busy during Nesting Season. Drawing in a mate can be pretty exhausting for the males though. Several claim territories and fight other males, others sing all day and all night, others construct nests. Essentially, males have to prove their value in order to draw in a mate. Once the mate is drawn in, then the dynamics between the two vary from species to species. However, parent involvement will decide how long the male sticks around!

Courtship varies from species to species!

Parent involvement in Nesting Season varies from species to species. For example, one strategy male house wrens use to draw in a mate is by building nests. Nests serve a major function in Nesting Season as they store the eggs away from predators and the elements as well as give the parents a headquarters. Therefore, female wrens want to find a mate that can build a proper nest. Because of this, males will sometimes build 12-15 nests for just one female in order to prove their value! That is a pretty involved father! Bluebird fathers are well-known for their constant feeding of the fledglings and their involvement with flight training. Another element that bluebird fathers bring to the nest is security. Bluebird fathers will oftentimes be seen very near the nest scanning for predators. Occasionally the male bird will attack predators, but more often than not, it begins to chirp loudly to warn the nest. Some species have the fathers be equally involved in the incubation of the eggs (penguins for example), while other species have less male involvement. Painted bunting females feed the young without the male. The subtle differences between species would be enough to write a book (there are several out there about this stuff), so I am going to give you a simple blanket statement: most male birds are incredibly involved in the nesting and fledgling process.

After the nest is complete, some species will stick together while other mates will go their separate ways. Depending on the species, they will have several broods in a single Nesting Season. A lot of these decision rely on what the area has to offer the birds. Here we will shift to what you can do to in order to make a father’s life easier.

This is the famous Cardinal Kiss! As a courtship ritual, male cardinals will feed their potential mates!

To get the obvious out of the way, feed quality foods year-round in order to ensure the father’s are healthy and happy. During Nesting Season, be extra sure to feed high fat and protein foods, so that they can have plenty of energy to do what is required of them! Along with food comes water! While this is another year-round need, Nesting Season takes a lot of time and energy away from the fathers. Instead of them having to spend precious time searching out for water, you could make it easier by offering a reliable, comfortable source for them to drink and bathe in. Those are the simple steps.

A lot of birds are very particular about their nest set ups. Bluebirds are notoriously needy when it comes to their nesting boxes. Not only do they need it a certain height (roughly 5-6 feet off the ground), but they also need it facing the most reliable food source while also maintaining a 10-15 foot distance from the feeder. It can be overwhelming to encounter all these steps and procedures, but it is easily doable! If you are putting out nesting boxes for other birds like woodpeckers, wrens, ducks, or kestrels, I encourage you to give us a call at Wild Birds Unlimited or go to the Audubon’s website. There you can find all sorts of facts and details in order to better understand what the birds want and what they need.

Lastly, a big help to the fathers, especially those who focus on building the nest, is leaving your yard natural. A lot of folks do not realize what all is used in a nest. We all recognize the pine straw woven in it; we all see the sticks sticking out of it; however, we overlook some other key details. Hummingbirds will use spider-webs as a glue in their small nests. Moss of all sort (Spanish, tree, etc.) is use for insulation and cushioning. Feathers are often used as well as leaves for padding. Lent from a washing machine can sometimes be found in nests. Some birds will even use mud as a cement in their nests. The point is: birds use a lot more in our yard than we realize. Therefore, we should let our yards get a little messy before Nesting Season. Might not be the best look out the kitchen window, but in a bird’s eye, it is paradise.

Hopefully now you will better appreciate what a great model birds make for fatherhood. Whether it is building and maintaining a nest, bringing food home, keeping an eye out for predators, or guiding the fledglings out of the nest, father birds are incredible. This Father’s Day, we hope you will notice the father’s endless effort and see how the nest in your backyard is not unlike the nest in your own home or your childhood home. It is not unlike the nest in your classroom or community, your church or your common space. Take a minute to thank your husband, your father, your father-in-law, your father figure, your grandfather, whoever it may be, for building such a perfect nest.

You can find products for fathers, whether they are birds or best friends, at!

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