Summer is the time for baby birds. My yard has been full of juvenile European starlings. While adult starlings are iridescent black, the juveniles are a dull light gray. The juveniles give a raucous begging call as they open their yellow mouths to entice their parents to feed them.
The European starling is a non-native species that nests in tree cavities and similar holes on manmade structures. This can be harmful because it takes nest sites away from native cavity-nesting species such as woodpeckers.
Juvenile common grackles look similar to juvenile starlings but have a longer tail and different beak shape.
Another distinctive juvenile bird to watch for is the American robin. The speckled breast of the juvenile is easy to distinguish from the unmarked orange breast of the adult.
I have also been seeing many brown-headed cowbirds in my yard. You won’t see juvenile cowbirds begging to adult cowbirds to be fed because cowbirds do not raise their own young. The brown-headed cowbird is a nest parasite species that lays its eggs in the nests of other songbirds. The other species feeds the young cowbird in the nest, which is sometimes quite comical as the baby cowbird is often much larger than the adult feeding it.
The juveniles of species like starlings and robins are very distinctive in the summer, but you may wonder why you don’t see them in the fall and winter. The juveniles of many species replace their feathers after a few months and then look similar to adults. However, other species including many of our raptors, hold their juvenile plumage for an entire year.
Since birds nest during the summer, their populations are much higher in the fall than in the spring. Populations decline throughout the fall and winter and are the lowest in the spring just before the breeding season. Even though spring is enjoyable because males are in their bright breeding plumage and are singing, late summer and fall can be spectacular due to the increased number of birds that are migrating.
Even though the birds stay busy all summer nesting and raising young, birders tend to be less active. One reason is that many birders go all out in May during the peak of spring migration and then are burned out by June as migration ends and the possibility of finding rare birds is much lower. With leaves on the trees it makes it difficult to see many birds, and a lot of summer birding is done by ear. This is best done in the early morning because many birds stop singing and become less active once the day heats up. Mosquitoes and other insects also make it difficult to enjoy birding in certain areas. Many birders take a break from birding and begin photographing other parts of nature such as dragonflies and butterflies.
As you enjoy nature this summer, see how many juvenile birds you can spot.
David Brown is a member of the Lycoming County Audubon Society.