Chickadees Excavating and Woodpeckers Chiseling Nests and Other Sights of Spring at the Rattray Marsh

I’ve been visiting the Rattray Marsh frequently for the past two weeks. Because of the huge number of brush piles left after the winter Ash tree removal, the park is a Wren’s Paradise. I’ve seen anywhere from 3 to 7 Winter Wrens each visit and I’ve been ineptly trying to get a decent photo of one of them. At the same time, I’ve been noticing a steady rapid switch into spring: the birds are building nests, the wildflowers are in bud and the butterflies are back!

Photo of Bloodroot Rattray on NaturalCrooksDotCom
Bloodroot is out in full bloom in patches around the park.

What’s That Small Black and White Bird Darting In and Out of That Stump Doing?

Yes, you guessed it. The chickadees are building nests again.

Photo of Chickadee Beakful on NaturalCrooksDotCom

Some of the locations they pick seem very unlikely to succeed. I’ve seen them start hollowing out nest cavities in stumps only inches away from well-travelled paths. I’ve also seen them try to dig out a nest cavity that was tilted up: It was obvious even to me that rain would flood down into the nest!

Photo of Chickadee Beakful Close on NaturalCrooksDotCom

Still, it’s very interesting to watch their energetic activities. They often carry away the wood chips from their future homes which makes it easier to spot what they’re doing as they make repeated trips back and forth. Both birds participate in the nest excavation.

What’s This Larger Stiffer Black and White Tail Sticking Out of a Hole In a Birch Tree?

Actually, I’m not sure if this is a birch. It’s not the regular White Birch if it is. Any tree enthusiasts are warmly welcomed to correctly id it for me!

Photo of Red Bellied Woodpecker Tail Out on NaturalCrooksDotCom

Anyway, a few times when I passed this tree, I saw a Red-bellied Woodpecker merely perched on it, calling. There is a fine assortment of holes of all different shapes and sizes up the trunk so it was not easy to decide if his (or her) interest was in nesting there or just resting there.

Photo of Red Bellied Woodpecker Chips Flying on NaturalCrooksDotCom

Recently, though, I’ve seen one of the pair actively digging out one of the cavities. While it could just be digging most of the way through the tree after an elusive snack, I’m pretty sure it’s excavating a nest hole. It can now fit almost entirely inside.

Photo of Red Bellied Woodpecker Flurry of Chips on NaturalCrooksDotCom
Letting the chips fall where they may.

According to AllAboutBirds both birds help chisel out the nest.  I’ve only seen the female at work.

What Raptor is Resting On That “Squirrel’s Nest?”

Squirrels do build lots of nests in the Rattray trees. Their nests, though, usually have large clusters of dead leaves for winter insulation. This nest, when you look at a bit more closely, is almost all sticks. Some of the pine branches still have clusters of green needles on them, but there is only the occasional leaf here or there.

Photo of Coopers Nest with Tail Up On NaturalCrooksDotCom
If you look at the big “stick” mid-nest pointing up, you’ll realize it’s a tail.

Coopers Hawks Sitting On Sticks But Soon It May Be Eggs at the Rattray Marsh

I’d seen the Cooper’s Hawks visiting this nest and then yesterday, I saw this one perched on the nest. I’m not sure that it is actually using the nest to incubate eggs yet, though. Last year, when incubation was underway, the bird was hidden well down into the center of the nest. It may just have been resting here considering its options. If the nearby trees don’t leaf out and block the view too soon, I may be able to confirm actual brooding later on.

Photo of Coopers Hawk Watching from Nest On NaturalCrooksDotCom

I found it interesting the hawk didn’t deign to glance my way when I stood quietly taking photos. But when a dog walked its owner by, even though neither slowed nor stopped, it raised its head and watched until they were well away. Do dogs look like better tree-climbers than I do? I think I’ve been insulted….

The Mute Swans and Canada Geese Are Also Nesting in the Marsh

The Mute Swan started incubating eggs at the Rattray quite a while ago, perhaps two weeks or a bit more. And a couple of the pairs of Canada Geese have been similarly busy. Because these birds are so much easier to spot I tend to ignore their nests. I guess it’s my “speciest” tendencies at work again. Nesting small birds just seem so much cuter to me!

Photo of Canada Goose Nest Hopeful at Arkendo on NaturalCrooksDotCom
This Goose is nesting at Arkendo, not the Rattray, but its nest is more appealing.

Mourning Cloaks and Cabbage Whites Take to the Skies

Photo of White Butterfly at Rattray Marsh April 20 2016 on NaturalCrooksDotCom

The birds aren’t the only ones interested in pairing up and procreating. I’ve seen both Mourning Cloaks and Cabbage White butterflies already this year. The Whites were dancing around in an elaborate ballet for several minutes. I never am quite sure whether I’m seeing two battling males or a delicate courtship, though. I’m sure sooner or later there will be eggs. We couldn’t get those hundreds of backyard Whites without a bit of enthusiasm early in the season.

What’s Next In the Nesting Business?

Photo of Wood Ducks Reeds on NaturalCrooksDotCom
He wasn’t letting her out of his sight so I think there will be little Wood ducklings plummeting from a nest soon.

The Blue Grey Gnatcatchers are on their way back. There have been reports from other parks not too far away. The kingfishers and swallows and wood ducks, sparrows and warblers will soon setup housekeeping. It’s a great time of year for watching bird behaviour, not just for catching a quick sight of the interesting colours of the migrants moving through. I hope to enjoy many glimpses into their busy lives.

The White Suckers have also been moving up the creek ready to spawn. And with luck, a giant Snapping Turtle or two and some smaller Painted Turtles may dig their nests later in May or June.


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Have your back yard cardinals started raising their first brood? Do you have Mallards trying to nest beside your unopened swimming pool? Please share your spring nesting sighting with a comment.

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