Saving spotted towhee was rewarding work

STACEY COLE July 04. 2014 7:23PM

A longtime reader friend, Karen Metz, is a former resident of Windham who now lives in a Colorado woodland 6,600 feet above sea level. In my last column, published on June 21, we carried the first half of Karen’s 2013-14 report.

This weekend, the conclusion of Karen’s report describes the different species of her hummingbird visitors and also of the raising of a fledgling male spotted towhee. Now for the conclusion of Karen’s report.

“Even with the flowers that I provide, the consumption from the hummingbird feeders on a typical day in July and August is 4 quarts of sugar water. The species that nest here in the ponderosa pine forest is broad-tailed hummingbords, and the females often raise two broods. Rufous hummingbirds nest in much more northern forests and migrate through after nesting season. Calliope and black-chinned also migrate through — the latter species is even beginning to expand its nesting range to where I live. Keeping the females of all the species apart is a real challenge, but one that is certainly fun to learn.

“I also had the pleasure and unique experience of helping an orphaned spotted towhee. My bird ‘rehabber’ friend raised the towhee from a three- or four-day nestling after its nest was destroyed. She did a remarkable job — never handling him and keeping it in containers with leaf litter so that he could play out his natural instincts and find insects and nutritious seed as he grew. Fortunately, he had spent some time in his natural nest and had imprinted on his natural parents, and not on a human.

“After about four weeks, she released the fledgling towhee at my home. I was to keep an eye on him and put mealworm on the ground where he’d have a good chance to find food supplements as he learned to find natural food. He flew readily toward me for the first week, which did concern me, but it needn’t have. I also saw him in other areas throughout my property, acting as the older towhees did — searching for natural foods.

“What was interesting is that (unlike other towhees) he also learned about the mealworm feeders — maybe because he did associate me with food and saw that I was going to the mealworm feeders. As he developed adult plumage it was harder and harder to recognize him from the other towhees, but he did have one distinguishing mark on one wing and was somewhat approachable. I won’t be able to tell him apart from any other male towhee now that they’re back for nesting season, but a towhee came close yesterday when I walked outside with mealworms. That towhee took one and now I often see a male towhee on the deck. The question is there in the back of my mind now — is that the rehabbed orphan? Some people believe that it is useless to try to raise an orphaned songbird, but from what I have witnessed, I think not.

“For nine winters in New Hampshire I monitored recovery efforts of bald eagles along the Merrimack River and I’m happy to read from Audubon of New Hampshire that the species is thriving. After coming to Colorado, I volunteered to monitor all species of raptors in both Front Range and Plains areas. A new chapter in this interest has me teaching raptor identification at conservation organizations and state parks as well as a raptor education organization. I find that many people are interested in raptors. They, like all birds, are wondrous creatures.” I thank Karen for her excellent report.

Indigo bunting

A Nashua reader wrote on May 19: “Just a note to let you know that I had a male indigo bunting under my feeder on the morning of May 12. Truly a delight as I had not seen one in about 15 years. What a beauty! He only visited for one day.”

Sad to say, it has been a few years since an indigo bunting (male or female) has called at our feeders. Annually, for several years, a pair of indigo buntings nested in our corn field located just west of our house. Unfortunately, when we gave up raising sweet corn in that field after closing our vegetable, egg, poultry and frozen chicken pie store, I don’t recall being visited by indigo buntings again.

We do have two pair of rose-breasted grosbeaks that regularly visit our feeders this year. They, especially the males, add a great deal of color whenever they visit.

Red-tailed hawks

A most interesting note from a longtime Henniker reader in part: “In late March we had new visitors at the platform where we feed the ravens — a beautiful pair of red-tailed hawks. Our neighbors have seen them gathering twigs (probably for building a nest).” Photos taken by a “trail” camera show a red-tailed clinging beneath a platform feeder, feasting from a hanging suet basket. Great views!

Stacey Cole’s address is 529 W. Swanzey Road, Swanzey, NH 03446.

Nature Talks

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