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The Backyard Birder, Issue May 2012
May 01, 2012
Rose-breated Grosbeaks, oh my!
It’s been fun keeping track of the migration of the Rose-breasted Grosbeak as many Florida and Georgia residents have written us this past week, to say they are currently enjoying them at their feeders.
Many have written that they’ve never spotted the female. Mrs. Rose-breasted Grosbeak has not a rose-colored feather on her. She is a streaked, brown bird, resembling an overgrown sparrow, with a thick, exaggerated finch bill and a conspicuous white eyebrow. When her husband returns to the tropics in the fall, his feathers are said to be similar to hers, so that even his name, then, does not fit.
His joyous warbled song, now loud and clear, then softly tender, puts him in the first rank of our songsters. This gentle cavalier not only carries food to his brooding mate but actually takes his turn at sitting upon the pale-greenish, blue-speckled eggs. As a lover, husband and father he is irreproachable.
The Swallows Have Arrived!This weekend marked the arrival of the swallows to my neighborhood.
If you were a bird, could you think of any way of earning a living more delightful than sailing about in the air all day, playing cross-tag on the wing with your companions, skimming low across the meadows, ponds, golf courses, or rising high above them and darting back and forth wherever you pleased, without knowing what it means to feel tired?
Swallows are as much in their element when in the air as fish are in water; but don’t imagine they are there simply for fun. Their long, blade-like wings, which cut through the air with such easy, but powerful strokes, propel them enormous distances before they have collected enough mosquitoes, gnats and other little gauzy-winged insects to supply such great energy and satisfy their hunger.
Saliva in the bird’s mouth glues the little victims as fast as if they were caught on sticky fly-paper. When enough have been trapped to form a pellet, the swallow swallows them in a ball. These sociable birds delight to live in companies, even during the nesting season when most feathered couples, however glad to flock at other times prefer to be alone.
If you venture too close to their nest, when the nestlings are hatched, a group of swallows can dive bomb you from all angles. (I can attest to this!) As soon as the young birds take wing, one family party unites with another, one colony with another until often enormous numbers assemble in the marshes in August and September.
Relying upon their speed of flight to carry them beyond the reach of enemies, they migrate boldly by daylight instead of at night as the timid little vireos and warblers do. During every day the swallows are with us, they must consume billions and trillions of blood-sucking insects. Think of the mosquito bites they prevent!
Male and female swallows are dressed so nearly alike that you can scarcely tell one from the other. Both twitter merrily but neither really sings.
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