When I walk around the city in spring, I’m always distracted. Not by the flashing lights, the gaudy ads, and only slightly by the skin displayed on sunny days. No, for better or worse, I’m distracted by birds going about the act of raising young. With meager attentiveness, you can notice birds in the process of raising young all over Capitol Hill and here and there they hurtle into our lives too.
Most noticeable are fledglings, specifically young free of the nest. Typically they look very different from their parents and indeed, none of our Capitol Hill birds immediately grow adult feathers. Often they develop an intermediate set of feathers, as flightworthy protection from the elements, but also marking them as youngsters. Within a year most will have adult plumage, but some species, like gulls, take several years to become perfectly plumed.
Sometimes, we find ourselves face to face with nestlings — out of the nest. Prematurely frightened out, discharged from a pruned tree, or survivors of nest predation, they aren’t quite ready for the big bad world. Our first instinct is to scoop the cute things up, keep them warm, and try to feed them. While not a terrible instinct, often it’s not the best course. Sometimes parents are nearby and feeding the young where they’ve landed. Maybe they simply need a lift into a nearby nest they fell from (and no, birds won’t abandon their young because you touched them). Believe me, adult birds are much better equipped to raise their young than you. A hummingbird baby requires a feeding every 15 minutes, do you want to take that on? Before you come to the rescue, do diligence to ensure you aren’t simply kidnapping nestlings. PAWS has a wonderful flowchart for guidance and if you still aren’t sure, call for help (425-412-4040). This time of year they are inundated with rescued baby birds and while they want to help, they have limited resources and want to be sure you don’t make a mistake.
When we share close urban quarters, conflict with birds is inevitable and indignation is an understandable response to species who don’t know our rules. The most common example is that of American crows, who nest all over the city, and are ferocious defenders of their young and nests. I can’t tell you the number of times someone has told me that crows hate them, because they keep getting attacked on their runs or walking down the block. There’s not much to be done for this behavior beyond recognizing a locational trend and avoiding the area temporarily. Crows usually hatch and leave the nest within a month. These highly intelligent birds are bright enough to recognize individual people, but they don’t randomly attack people, no matter how much you might believe it or dislike them (I, for one, believe crows are the coolest birds we have around Capitol Hill, but I’ll save those explanations for later ramblings).
Nesting birds can similarly cause problems. Some nests are minor annoyances of noise or mess, a vent or a small crack in building readily attracts cavity nesters. The worst scenarios involve species that decide to create a cavity in your home. Northern Flickers, a type of woodpecker, are typical culprits. Seattle Audubon has a good overview of ways to deter their attempts.
Before you start removing nests, keep in mind that most nests are federally protected (minus introduced Rock Pigeons, European Starlings, and House Sparrows). Besides, as annoying as loud nestlings and their white wash can be, have a little humanity before you start evicting them. All bird nests are temporary, only used a couple times as season in most cases and after they’ve finished steps can be taken to remove opportunities for further nesting.
Mostly, we should be excited to see the lives of birds in the city. In most cases, nesting birds create minor inconveniences in the form of protective parents or messy, short-term tenants. The worst results are slight property damage. We’d do well recognizing that most birds were here before us and that more often than not they need all the help, in the form of rescue, creation of nesting habitat, or tolerance, they can get. Besides, they’re just being good parents; don’t fault them for that.
Previously in Pikes/Pines