John A. Gerwin, Wake Audubon board member
On March 5, I was out of bed by 4 a.m. to get ready for an early flight, and it was 36 degrees outside! It may not feel much like spring these days, but a few days of low temperatures does not dissuade our local birds. They are tuned to multiple factors, and it seems clear that daylength is one that sends a strong if not the strongest signal that it is time to get the house ready – the kids are coming.
For the past 2 weeks, folks have been emailing or otherwise telling me about their observations of a couple species that are indeed conducting nest building activities – the Red-shouldered Hawk, and the Brown-headed Nuthatch. The former is our Bird of the Year, and the latter of course has been a focus for several chapters selling “nuthatch” nest boxes (Wake Audubon has sold many hundreds!).
In a “normal” year around the Piedmont of NC, Red-tailed hawks begin nest building (or refurbishing last year’s nest) in mid-to-late January, which can go on for a week or two. The Red-shouldered Hawk begins 2-3 weeks later and thus this year, they are “on time” as some folks reported watching adults carrying sticks to nest locations, in mid-February.
On this schedule, for those young who make it “all the way”, the Red-tails will fledge in late May, whereas the Red-shouldered’s will do so in mid-to-late June. May is a noisy month with many begging Buteo’s around town.
Similarly, I received my first “Nuthatch alert” in mid-February – an adult was excavating a cavity in a dead snag in a neighbor’s yard. In addition, Wake Audubon board member and Flickr manager Bob Oberfelder found an adult excavating along the American Tobacco Trail on February 21. Once again, these birds are “on time”. Bob got some great shots of the adult tossing wood chips out of the cavity, which I include here. I’m also including a shot or two of eggs from a nest box I installed at a nearby elementary school. Another neighbor and her pre-teen daughter have been checking this and 10 other boxes I put up, for the past 2 seasons. Our small bit of data show that nuthatches can be incubating eggs from the second week of March into late-April. That is, some lay as early as mid-March, whereas others, for some reason, lay in mid-April (you may recall it takes about 10 days for a BH Nuthatch egg to hatch).
Hopefully, you have your ‘nuthatch’ boxes up, but if not, now you know there are some late layers out there. So go ahead and put up another if you wish to.