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?*
“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)