Territory and Mate Selection in Full Swing

Submitted by Art and Barb Straub

To paraphrase Andy Wiliams, “It’s a most wonderful time of the year!” Yet, he was singing about Christmas, and frankly, we don’t wish to hear “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” again. Never.
Not ever. The past two weeks have been a birder’s dream, as beginning about May 4th, a relentless stream of birds of all kinds and colors have utilized the moonlight and the skyways by the millions. You say, “That’s an overstatement,” however, Cornell Lab and kin, using surveillance radar technology, estimated 179.l million birds heading northward on May 3rd. That’s a lot of feathers! Check out Cornell Lab if you are a person of disbelief.

Hummingbirds in mid-Minnesota were observed by friends in LeSueur County May 4th, and since then the hummers have been a-humming and a-strumming. They barely returned from Costa Rica and points south when the males of the species began putting on their “see my beautiful feathers routine.” Have you ever observed that never-to-be-forgotten maneuver? May 10th was a pristine day in the woodland with abundant sunshine, cardinals calling, warblers bidding “adieu” as they headed north, male cowbirds battling and tom turkeys chortling, tulips and daffodils in blossom… etc. What more could one ask for? Meringue on rhubarb torte, of course. Testing. What is a hummingbird ‘arc’ display. Most won’t believe this, you have to see it to believe. The male will go through an acrobatic maneuver while the female sits nonchalantly on a tiny bit of a branch. He repeatedly flies close to her head in a perfect arc, in a ‘U’ or horseshoe shape probably 20 feet across, and twelve feet off the ground. Believe us when we say, “It’s a breathtaking experience.” And we’ve observed the phenomena just three times in our almost ninety years! Well worth living that long for. Select a sunny day plus a spot where you’ve observed hummingbirds before, then be patient. (Easier said than accomplished.)

If it doesn’t happen for you, don’t be blue, there is other ‘blue’ about. Dean and Judy Hathaway’s bluebirds appeared a bit late, but went to work laying eggs and setting almost upon arrival. Barring unforeseen circumstances, in another week or so, the eggs will hatch. Tree swallows, wrens, and house sparrows may attempt to take over the box nest, driving the bluebirds away, or those voracious rascally raccoons seeking fresh flesh after a long winter may visit at night. There are many twists of fate before the fledglings emerge from the box nest.

Speaking of ‘twists of fate,’ the Coachlight Swans, Sylvia and Sylvan returned to the large pond off Highway 93 right on schedule. There were numerous skirmishes with Canada geese, but the trumpeters settled in, building a luxurious homestead where none had been before, that is,
Sylvia dredging countless beak fulls of mud, rushes, cattail roots, and grasses; while Sylvan scanned the skies, ever watchful and alert. However, chances are excellent that their hard work has been for naught, due to the rising waters caused by recent deluges. We will keep you posted, but in the meantime, think positive thoughts.

Swallows of a number of species arrived a bit late, over-flying their food supplies. The first to arrive were the tree swallows, they had to really work to find almost non-existent insects. Cliff swallows flew in next, and on two spectacular days, swooped above the Henderson Highway #19 bridge engulfing the edifice by the hundreds. IF the river remains high, and is just below the level of the bridge, that species will resort to building their mud nests on nearby buildings (homes for humans) and other buildings with overhangs. Finally, barn swallows arrived at Joe and Ellie Doherty’s, the same day as at the farmyard of poultry expert, Vern Bienfang, where they immediately began construction under the eaves of Vern’s tidy two-story home. “Oh, well,” said Vern, “the birds keep busy picking up the many feathers on the lawn for their mud nests, and keep the insect population under control.” That’s a positive attitude when current events could get one down.