I guess I am a glutton for punishment. With the temperature still hovering around 90 degrees, I spent two and a half hours in my sweat lodge of a photo blind in attempt to document the comings and goings of my now four painted buntings yesterday. Despite their beauty and character, my focus was lured elsewhere. Some 10 feet away off to my left sits my lone bluebird box with its four nestlings.
They are nearly two weeks old now and demand a lot of attention from Mom and Dad. As interesting as the little ones are, they were still not the cause of my amazement. That notoriety rested solely within the parents themselves. As I sat there watching quietly, they hunted voraciously and delivered the goods time and time again to the young bluebirds; nearly 20 trips in the short time I observed. Dragonflies, beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, and even a small frog were on the menu and were gobbled up without hesitation.
I marveled at the ability of the parents to not only catch the bite sized prey, but find it. They typically use two to three perches in and around my yard to hunt from. They sit still scanning for movement within the grass and foliage. Once a morsel is spotted they are on wing and move swiftly towards their target. The range at which they can spot their meal is remarkable. I am also amazed that they can catch dragonflies in flight. As fast as they are I’m sure that prize is not won easily. Much to my surprise one out of four trophies is usually one of the numerous darners and chasers from the pond. Daily I observe them patrolling as early as 6 a.m. and as late as 9 p.m. It is a wonder they ever have time to feed themselves, yet their energy never seems to diminish.
The bluebirds aren’t the only hunters in the wood. Of all the passerines in coastal Georgia nearly all consume insects as a primary or secondary source of nourishment. Though you may think your backyard birds are eating you out of house and home, they are most likely still finding live snacks throughout the day. By eating live prey they can acquire the supplemental nutrients they need that aren’t found in the seed in your feeders.
As I continued to sit in my blind I felt humbled by the amount of work these parents are doing to feed their children. They hunt all day, traveling back and forth from their nesting box, flying miles in a day. I travel a mile in an air-conditioned SUV to the grocery store to buy pre-packaged ready to eat food and I have one child not four. Granted their responsibility ends a lot sooner than mine, however the effort and skill possessed is stellar none the less.
The concealment that the blind provides shortens the distance between me and the birds. This close proximity allows me to tune in to behavior I may have overlooked in the past. It seems my time in the sweat lodge has yielded more than good pictures.
Heifert is a Richmond Hill birder.