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Posts tagged ‘nests’

1…2…3 Gator Mounds & Their Protectors

Twenty million years as a resident of planet Earth, and counting…. Scientists believe that the American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) resembles animals that inhabited our planet as long as 100-150 million years ago — and that they may be linked to creatures dating 50-65 million years ago, managing to avoid the extinction that killed off the dinosaurs, their prehistoric contemporaries.

I’ve posted images of alligator courtship, several on the gator babies (with more on the way — updates to our wetland babies!) — but we now have alligator nests to watch. At least 3 nests in one wetland preserve alone — with the momma gators keeping diligent guard. Alligator nests (or mounds) are built by the female, and comprised of vegetation, sticks, and mud. They’re usually located in a sheltered spot in or near the water. She lays 20-50 eggs, and covers them under more vegetation which heats as it decays, serving to incubate the eggs. The female will remain near the nest throughout the 65-day incubation period, protecting it. If a mother alligator is killed or removed, she can’t protect her nest or young — dooming the hatchlings. *Leave wildlife alone!*

It’s always wise, and healthy (wink) to know what a gator nest looks like (see below!), if you’re a hiker in our area — momma will most definitely be nearby!

Female Alligator Guarding Her Nest

Female Alligator… Keeping a Watchful Eye on Her Nest

Small Female Alligator Guarding Nest, Surrounded by Pond Apples

An Alligator Mound at the Water’s Edge

Alligator Mound from August ’11 — Newly Hatched

Happy Mommy’s Day

 Happy Mother’s Day! MUCH love to all the dedicated, devoted, and hard-working women — and female critters — of the world.

Me + Mom (w/ brother in belly) in Central FL, 1972, PRE-Disney — while swamps were being filled

Momma Grackle feeds her young

I’ll save *exactly* what the momma’s feeding the juvenile (below) for an upcoming post…. It’s just. That. Yummy!

Great Blue Heron feeding her young on a tree-top nest

Big Like You: Momma Alligator with one of her babies

Anhinga Mealtime: Busy mother Anhinga with her brood

Red-winged Blackbird nest with a new momma

Red-winged Blackbird mother feeds her hatchlings

Our neighborhood stray cat and her kitten in our yard; such a good momma (now: TNR time!)

Time for Empty Nest Syndrome… Or Not?

I’ve written a post or two on the Red-winged Blackbirds — common songbirds found in most of North and much of Central America, and familiar sights in our protected wetlands and Everglades. The males, glossy black with scarlet-and-yellow shoulder patches, puff up or hide depending on their level of confidence. In our marshes, they’re quite brave (or protective, in defense-mode), doing their hardest to get noticed, and belting out their conk-la-ree songs. The female, subdued brown with streaks of lighter colorations, is much shyer than her male counterpart. Her brownish coloring serves to camouflage her and the nest, while she’s incubating. Staying low in the vegetation, she searches for food (eating primarily seeds and insects) and weaves her amazing nest. Constructed entirely over the course of 3-6 days — with no help from the males — the nests are woven in cattails, rushes, grasses, or in alder or willow bushes. Located near the water’s surface, the nest is a basket constructed of grasses, sedge, and mosses, lined with mud and bound to surrounding grasses or branches. I’ve watched for nearly an hour in awe, as a female patiently gathered her grasses from the surrounding wetlands — and even longer as another intricately wove her basket-nest. It’s beautifully mesmerizing (and believe me, I’m no birdwatching crackerjack). Red-winged Blackbirds nest in loose colonies, and the males serve as sentinels to guard the nests, using various calls to denote the type and severity of danger against such predators as snakes, raccoons, iguanas, and other birds.

In my recent wanderings, I first became captivated by the spectacular artwork of the Blackbirds’ bluish eggs, marked with brown and/or black Pollock splatters. Incubated by the female alone, they hatched within 11-12 days. Being a large colony, there was no dearth of nests, but it wasn’t always easy to spy the eggs in the marsh vegetation:

Red-winged Blackbird Nest with Eggs

Then I fell in love with the hatchlings: born blind and naked, they were ready to leave the nest 11-14 days after hatching. Chirping away, they were ever-protected by their parents. But time flies quickly….

Red-winged Blackbird Nest with Hatchlings

Red-winged Blackbird Nest with Hatchlings

During recent walks, I began noticing more empty nests, over which I couldn’t help feeling irrationally sad…. Other than empty nests, I spied a momma Blackbird teaching her young ones early flight — or early adventures out of their nest. Was nesting season finished? Were there to be no more Red-winged Blackbird babies?

Empty Red-winged Blackbird Nest

Empty Red-winged Blackbird Nest

Empty Red-winged Blackbird Nest

Empty Red-winged Blackbird Nest

But over yonder! What was that commotion…. Lo and behold, a new nest! The male perched sentinel nearby, always the protector, while the female made her way to the nest, to incubate her new eggs. And the cycle continues, hoorah!

Female Red-winged Blackbird on Her Way to the Nest

Red-winged Blackbird Sentinel

A new nest, with eggs!!

Red-winged Blackbird Nest with a New Momma

Red-winged Blackbirds… And Their Babies!

Another nearby nest, with hatchlings! Since Red-winged Blackbirds nest in loose colonies, there’s no dearth of nesting activity, if one’s looking closely enough in our dense marshes. This clutch consisted of three eggs — typical for the species. The eggs were incubated by the female alone, and hatched within 11 to 12 days. Red-winged Blackbirds are born blind and naked, but will be ready to leave the nest 11 to 14 days after hatching. Every time the wind rustled the leaves of this nest, the hatchlings were up and chirping for food….

Female Red-winged Blackbird Feeds the Hatchlings at Her Nest

Red-winged Blackbird Hatchlings Wait for Their Meal

Red-winged Blackbird Hatchlings Wait for Their Meal

For More Information:

Red-winged Blackbirds… And Their Nests

Red-winged Blackbirds are found in most of North and much of Central America, and are familiar sights in our wetlands. There have been claims that it is the most abundant, and most well studied bird in North America. The males, glossy black with scarlet-and-yellow shoulder patches, puff up or hide depending on their level of confidence. In our marshes, they’re quite brave (or protective, in defense-mode), doing as much as they can to get noticed, and belting out their conk-la-ree songs.

Male Red-winged Blackbird

Male Red-winged Blackbird Sings

The female is a subdued brown, with streaks of lighter colorations — and much shyer than her male counterpart. Her brownish coloring serves to camouflage her and the nest, while she’s incubating. Females stay low in the vegetation, searching for food (eating primarily seeds and insects), and weaving their amazing nests. Constructed entirely over the course of three to six days — with no help from the males — the nests are located in cattails, rushes, grasses, or in alder or willow bushes. Located near the water’s surface, the nest is a basket constructed of grasses, sedge, and mosses, lined with mud and bound to surrounding grasses or branches. I’ve watched for nearly an hour in awe, as a female patiently gathered her grasses — and even longer as another intricately wove her basket-nest. It’s beautifully mesmerizing (and believe me, I’m no birdwatching crackerjack!). Red-winged Blackbirds nest in loose colonies, and their predators include snakes, raccoons, and other birds, even the small marsh wrens — and in our area, iguanas. Males serve as sentinels to guard the nest, using various calls to denote the type and severity of danger.

Female Red-winged Blackbird Builds Her Nest

Female Red-winged Blackbird Builds Her Nest

Female Red-winged Blackbird in the Marsh Grasses

Red-winged Blackbird Nest Under Construction, Green Cay Wetlands, Florida

This clutch consists of three eggs — typical for the species (2 to 4). They’re oval and smooth, of a pale bluish coloring, and marked with brown and/or black markings. The eggs are incubated by the female alone, and will hatch within 11 to 12 days. Red-winged Blackbirds are born blind and naked, but are ready to leave the nest 11 to 14 days after hatching.

Red-winged Blackbird Nest with Eggs

More pictures of the most amazing and lovely Blackbirds:

Female Red-winged Blackbird in the Marsh Grasses

Female Red-winged Blackbird in the Marsh Grasses

For More Information:

The Nesting Great Blues

I’m lucky to have close access to the Green Cay and Wakodahatchee Wetlands (Seminole for “created waters”), and when we’re not able to hike the Everglades or some of the other far-reaching natural area, a stroll around these boardwalks will soothe my spirits. It’s full-on nesting and baby season, and while I’ve posted some pics of the anhingas and others (the baby gators I’ve yet to post), I’ve saved the biggest for last: the ever-so-graceful Great Blue Herons. Their displays at the rookery fuel the attentions of every amateur and professional photographer and birdwatcher for miles, and the meek (*me*) have no place if it’s crowded…which is fine, because while the herons are divine, there’s plenty of other loveliness to be found when no one’s looking.

The Great Blue parents share the responsibilities of feeding their young at the nest, by hunting on a full-time schedule and regurgitating the food. The battle for food is brutal among the chicks; the first to hatch is more experienced in food handling, and consequently grows more quickly than the others. Such aggression in the interaction with the sibling chicks (as well as the discrepancy in size) can be seen at the Wakodahatchee rookeries, where the humans root for the younger, weaker chicks that consistently lose after fierce battles for food. This particular nest had two young herons — there initially may have been more eggs however, because we spied an iguana lurking in the depths of the rookery, obviously looking for eggs to steal.

For More Information:

The size discrepancy of the chicks often dictates the winner of the food…

The end of a fierce struggle for food…

Nesting Season at Wakodahatchee

For the last two months, it’s been nesting and baby season at the Green Cay and Wakodahatchee Wetlands — oases of green in South Florida’s suburbia, nestled on the edge of the Everglades. In the Seminole Indian language, Wakodahatchee translates as “created waters” — and that’s exactly what’s been done at these wetlands. Wakodahatchee’s present-day 50 acres of wetlands were, in their previous incarnation, unused utility land. But the space has been transformed into an Everglades wildlife ecosystem, with marsh habitat, intermittent tree islands, and cypress hammocks. Each day, the Palm Beach County’s Southern Region Water Reclamation Facility pumps nearly two million gallons of highly treated water daily into Wakodahatchee; the wetlands themselves further naturally cleanse, recharge, and filter the remaining nutrients and maintain earth’s water cycle. Dozens of different species of trees, shrubs, and aquatic vegetation were also incorporated to help manage this feat.

Wakodahatchee is a birdwatcher’s paradise — the site is part of the South section of the Great Florida Birding Trail, and common sightings include egrets, herons, ducks, grebes, bitterns, ibis, moorhens, warblers, blackbirds, cardinals, owls, hawks…and the list goes on, with more than 140 species identified. Many turtles make their home at the wetlands, and marsh rabbit can also be seen in the grassy and low-lying areas. As always, alligator sightings are common at Wakodahatchee, and non-poisonous snakes and frogs live on the fringes of the boardwalk. But I’ve even had the most fortunate sightings of shy otters and bobcat. Right now however, it’s the babies that are catching everyone’s eyes….

For More Information:

A most entertaining trio of young anhingas:

Big Like You: The crowded rookery, with great blues, anhingas, tri-colors, and ibises (the egrets have their very own space):

Yummy mealtime for the young anhingas (those mommas work hard)…

And some of the rookery’s newer fuzzy anhinga residents…

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