There are a lot of blocks remaining in which just 15 more confirmations will complete the block. This is prime time to observe later-season codes like CF (Carrying Food), FL (Recently Fledged Young), and FY (Feeding Young [out of the nest]).
Read on to find out hints for turning those probable species into confirmations!
- Review your target species. Before you head out to your block, check out the list of species that are probable and possible, and the sublocation where you last had them. To do this, go to Explore a Region, type in your block name, and you can click the title bar that says “Breeding Evidence” to sort by Confirmed/Probable/Possible/Observed. You can drag this list and then copy or paste this list into a word processing program to print it. Or take a picture of it with your phone.
- Get up early. The dawn chorus and subsequent burst of activity is generally the time of the day with the most action, and getting up and out for the sunrise is worth it. Midday usually produces a lull, but on cloudy days birds can be active a bit longer. There is a second activity period where things can pick back up from dusk to evening. The beginning and end of the day can also pretty easily be combined with an hour of nocturnal atlasing.
- Find productive habitats. All habitats are worth working, but in many cases young birds are specifically brought into denser habitats so spots with shrubs and forests with a dense understory can be especially productive. Or areas with a food source like feeders or berry bushes.
- Station yourself in a spot with good visibility. Locations where you can see a fair distance (especially in wooded landscapes, clearings or rivers) can be valuable, as can locations where you expect birds to be perched and visible (powerlines, fencelines, and dead snags).
- Follow an individual bird. You’ve got your list of species you need, so if you encounter one, follow it for 5 or 10 minutes to see if it’s up to something. If you become suspicious of breeding activity, watch it for even longer. It’s a satisfying feeling to stalk your quarry and then see it with food or feeding young!
- Stand still. As you’re sitting there watching your bird, you may notice other birds sneaking around. If you can be quiet and unobtrusive, you have a better chance of spotting reclusive birds feeding young. Remember, the pace of atlasing is generally much slower than regular birding.
- Carefully watch behaviors. Not all fledglings are obvious, but watching behaviors can help you interpret what is going on. Are there 4 birds in the same tree? Any more than 2 birds should get you suspicious about young. Scrutinize young birds for a pale fleshy gape (pale corners of mouth). Is that bird frozen in place? It may be a fledgling trying not to be seen or a female waiting until you back away to return to her nest. Are birds coming and going from the same direction? There may be a nest or young in that bush. Any bird not acting “normal” may be not wanting to reveal its nest or young with you around. If the bird is not doing anything further, try backing away a bit and continuing to observe it from a distance.
- Be alert for any chipping noises. You don’t have to know right away what kind of bird is making chipping noises, but at this time of year you should investigate any and all chipping noises as they are often fledglings begging for food, parents calling to young, or parents agitated about your presence. This is usually much more productive than staking out or chasing males that are repeatedly singing, since intense singers this time of year are often unpaired or barely involved in raising the young.
- If you find a puzzling fledgling, wait for the parents to show up. Birds that are too young to be readily identifiable are generally still being fed by parents on a regular basis, so station yourself in a location that is a bit hidden but with a good view of the fledgling, and wait to see who shows up with food (or, if you are too close, who chips at you angrily!)
- Finding nests is not necessary. In fact, codes like ON (Occupied Nest), NY (Nest with Young), and NE (Nest with Eggs) are uncommon for most songbird species. It’s nice when you chance into a nest but not worth your time to beat the bushes looking for one. It’s much easier to catch an adult carrying food (CF), feeding young (FY), or find a fledgling (FL), and right now is a perfect time to go seek those behaviors out.
And a couple warnings…
Be careful about independent, fully flighted young. If you see a bird clearly hatched this year, but with no fluff remaining, with full-size tail feathers, flying well, with no parents in sight, that bird could have moved a substantial distance from where it was hatched, and is no longer eligible for the FL code.
Be careful about the Distraction Display code (DD). You’ll often observe agitated birds (A) or birds showing territorial defense (T) but a distraction display (DD) is a more rarely encountered and very specific behavior where a bird feigns injury and makes a commotion to try to get you to follow them and lead you away from the nest or young. We also consider any bird that is aggressively dive-bombing you to qualify for a distraction display. However, a bird sitting there close to you chipping angrily is NOT DD, rather A, and other situations where birds are flying around angrily but not specifically attacking you or feigning injury probably deserve the A or T code for now.
Great job so far atlasers, let’s head out and finish off some blocks!