510EUBCeP9L__SY434_BO1,204,203,200_Back in my old second-floor apartment, I had the pleasure of hosting quite a few birds’ nests in the relative safety of the underside of my porch. Most times, I had to get on hands and knees to peer through the slats to see the hatching progress (to the parents vocal dismay). Over the years, my amateur eyes saw house finches, sparrows and robins build nests and hatch. One year, though, a creative robin couple decided to build their nest in the space between my recycling bin and the slats of the porch railing.  While I would have to forgo curbside recycling for a few weeks, I had a prime view from egg to fledge. I even set up a webcam to catch the action without disrupting the new family.

Watching the nestlings (technical term “altricial chicks”) hatch and grow gave me a great curiosity about their development. Not just how about long it would take for them grow and fly, but also, were both parents in attendance? What will happen after these giant balls of fluff leave the safety of the nest? Where is all the poop going?*

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Robin nestlings, 2011

Into the Nest: Intimate Views of the Courting, Parenting, and Family Lives of Familiar Birds,” by Laura Erickson and Marie Read ably answers those questions and quite a bit more. Every aspect of birds’ life cycles are explained: mating, fidelity, egg production, nesting and parenting. Twenty-five familiar birds get special attention, with detailed photographs, some that literally go into the nest. American Robins are there, of course, along with Chipping Sparrows, House Wrens, Mourning Doves, Blue Jays and American Crows. More exotic birds (or, at least, those that most of us couldn’t easily peer into their nests) are treated with just as much detail – Red-tailed Hawks, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Downy Woodpeckers, Herring Gulls and Great Horned Owls.

Into the Nest” is a great book for backyard birdwatchers or for anyone curious about the birds and raptors we share our yards, forests, sky, (and porches) with.

* Apparently, nestlings defecate into a “fecal sac” that is promptly removed from the nest by the adult birds. (pg. 136)

bluebird effectJulie Zickefoose lives for the moment when a wild, free living bird that she has raised or rehabilitated comes back to visit her; their eyes meet and they share a spark of understanding.

Her reward for the grueling work of rescuing birds – such as feeding baby hummingbirds every twenty minutes all day long – is her empathy with them and the satisfaction of knowing the world is a birdier and more beautiful place. The Bluebird Effect is about the change that’s set in motion by one single act, such as saving an injured bluebird – or a hummingbird, swift, or phoebe. Each of the twenty five chapters covers a different species, and many depict an individual bird, each with its own personality, habits, and quirks and are illustrated with Zickefoose’s stunning watercolor paintings and drawings.

Not just individual tales about the trials and triumphs of raising birds, The Bluebird Effect mixes humor, natural history, and memoir to give readers an intimate story of a life lived among wild birds. (description from publisher)

 

backyard bird feedersThat wintry landscape means difficult times for our feathered friends. While some birds fly south for the winter, many common Iowa backyard birds stay – chickadees, song sparrows, cardinals, juncos – and stick it out through the brutal cold and snow. You can give them a helping hand – and in the process get a chance to enjoy watching them up close – with just a few simple steps.

Two of the most important things to provide are shelter and water. Shelter for the birds can be a brush pile, or vines or perennials that you don’t cut down in the fall. Providing water during bird feeder bookfreezing temperatures can be more difficult; heaters for bird baths available, or simply keeping some water open by hand will also do the trick.

Finally, you can feed the birds. Placing the feeders so that you can watch the birds from inside your house can provide hours of entertainment as they brighten our winter landscape. For information on what food suits which birds, check out some of these titles from the library:

The Backyard Bird Feeders Bible by Sally Roth

outwitting squirrelsCreating a Bird-friendly Backyard Habitat by Scott Edwards

Experts Guide to Backyard Birdfeeding by Bill Adler

The Bird Feeder Book by Donald Stokes

And, just because where there’s a bird feeder, there’s bound to be squirrels, Outwitting Squirrels by Bill Adler