John Sterling Poole
Fledglings and Flight Training
Spring is finally here, and while being stuck at our houses all day can be annoying, we can at least be thankful that this lockdown happened at one of the most exciting times of the year for birders: nesting and fledgling season! You have probably noticed that birds are out, and they are looking for food! Several pairs can be seen constructing nests together. Some customers have already had a brood in their bluebird boxes! It is an exciting time for us and a crucial time for birds. They rely on us to provide the much needed resources during these seasons.
For the birds working on a nest, leave out some lent, don’t take all of the twigs and sticks out of your yard, and be sure you have high energy foods like suet or BarkButter. These are what the birds need to remain healthy and it makes their lives incredibly easier since they do not have to search far for nest materials. Additionally, make sure you have a constant water source nearby. This will increase the likelihood of success for all nests in your area!
Those are just some quick tips to keep in mind while we ride out nesting season, but just because the eggs have hatched doesn’t mean that there is no more work required. In fact, it is quite the opposite! Once the eggs hatch, the parents are now tasked with making sure their brood successfully leaves the nest. This is not an easy task, because there are a lot of obstacles that can inhibit the fledglings. This post is hoping to help you out!
Whenever a customer buys a house, we always advise them to place it around 10-15 feet away from a feeder but still facing the feeder. One of the reasons is that you do not want it too close to the feeders that it draws all types of birds to it. Another reason is that you do not want the parents to work too hard when going to get food and coming back. Once the eggs hatch, parents have to feed their young (pictured above). Those babies eat quite a bit too! These fledglings need the high protein, high energy foods to develop properly. They need suet, BarkButter Bits, peanuts, tree nuts, safflower, BarkButter plugs, and, most importantly, mealworms. Mealworms are great for the recently hatched birds because they contain proper nutrients, proteins, and fats to help the birds grow up strong.
Now if you are wanting the most success, you will need to feed live mealworms. These have the most nutrients, protein, and fat in them. They are also the most natural. These young birds will never find a dehydrated worm out in the wild later in life. We realize that the lives ones are a little gross, but they are what the birds want and need! If you are very opposed to the lives ones, dehydrated are also very good for the birds (just not as good as the live). Mealworms are great year-round, but right now, in particular, they are crucial.
One other food that is often overlooked for both nesting season and fledgling season is calcium. The amount of calcium (or lack thereof) ingested by a parent will affect the strength of the egg shell. Calcium will also impact the developing bones of the fledglings. Our Nesting Blend is calcium rich as is our No-Mess blend and our White Deluxe Plus.
Another reason we advise folks to face their houses towards their feeders is so that the fledglings can see their destination. A little while after hatching (anywhere from 2-3 weeks), the young will start to practice flying. They need a nearby destination, and they need to be able to see it. But the fledglings are probably not going to make it to your feeder on their first try. Birds have an excellent work ethic because they will try and fail, try and fail, try and fail, until they achieve their goal. Fledglings do just that.
The parent birds wean their young off in order to get the fledglings to start flying. The parents will usually move away from the nest in order to get the fledglings to leave the nest by walking. The fledglings will cautiously explore the branch, house, whatever. They will slowly inch their way towards their parent. That is usually the first stage.
The second stage looks a little more heartless. Oftentimes, folks will see fledglings plummet to the ground. This is natural. Don’t panic. (Now if a nest drops to the ground with incredibly young fledglings, that’s a different story.) Eventually the parents will fly to a nearby point, usually the feeder, and wait for their babies to follow. The fledglings have to work up the courage to fly out towards the feeder. The first attempt almost always is a failure. The young bird will flap its wings helplessly and land on the ground. It is important that you let this process happen without interference or interruption. Do not try to help the fledgling. It will pick itself up and make its way back to the nest (usually with the help of a parent). This process continues like that until the fledglings finally make it to the feeder. From there, the fledglings become a lot more independent, but you can usually spot the parent birds sticking around to keep an eye on things.
Fledglings typically remain in the area for about 2 weeks after they master flying. They stay where they know there is food. After that, they will have to make a decision: stay or go. You can encourage them to stay by offering quality foods in quality feeders, a steady source of water, and adequate shelter should the weather turn nasty.
While you shouldn’t directly interfere with the flight training process, you can help indirectly. Offering nearby perching areas (rest stops if you will) can help the fledglings rest a moment between destinations. This can be some branches or brush, a bush or taller plants. Get creative with it! Just be sure that you don’t bother the nest too much during this process. It is best to not visit the nest too often. (Also, if you take photos, turn off the flash.)
What is most surprising about this whole process is the turnaround rate. Shortly after the fledglings fully leave the nest, the parents can sometimes start building a new nest. That is why it is crucial to take out nests that have already been used. Birds do not reuse nests. They simply build on top of the old one which can become a real problem in terms of heat, drainage, and bacteria. What I do is remove the old nest and then break it apart. I leave the remains around the house, so that the new nest can recycle parts of the old.
Just because you had one successful brood does not mean that your nesting season is over! Several folks have as many as four broods in one house in one season! So be sure you’re keeping those feeders filled, those birdbaths watered, and those houses cleaned! Happy birding!