A very good year in my backyard

It’s been a banner year for wildlife in my backyard, and each evening my wife and I enjoy the show from the back porch.

Pairs of bluebirds, robins, phoebes, chipping sparrows and Carolina wrens tend to their second nests of the season, while the young of their first broods search the backyard for insects and earthworms.

Each nest was within 25 feet of the house. The bluebirds used an old downy woodpecker hole in a dead apple tree just off the porch. The robins nested inside an open shed.

The phoebes built their nest under the roof at the cellar door. And the chippies used a blue spruce that I planted nearly 20 years ago after using it as a live Christmas tree.

I never did find the first Carolina wren nest, but their second one is in a hanging planter on the back porch. Several mammals have had similar success.

Fawn

In the evening as many as 10 cottontails scamper around the lawn, and I think a white-tailed deer gave birth to a fawn on the edge of the yard. One evening my wife spooked a fawn from its bed while doing yard work.

A few days later, I glanced out the kitchen window and noticed a doe browsing at the bottom of the driveway. As mom ate, her spotted fawn ran wind sprints up and down the length of the yard.

It was almost as if the fawn was showing mom it was ready to venture beyond the safety of the backyard.

Stars of the yard

During the day young chipmunks and gray squirrels visit the bird feeders, and juvenile ground hogs munch on succulent grasses on the edge of the yard. But ruby-throated hummingbirds have been the stars of my backyard refuge.

Every year I explain that hummingbird numbers ebb and flow in a predictable manner. May numbers peak as migrants return. Some move on, but some stay to nest.

Local breeders

In June, we’re left with the local breeders, and adult females spend most of their time tending to their nests. So in June and early July, it’s normal to see just a few hummers at feeders.

In mid-July, young hummingbirds fledge and visits to feeders increase dramatically. And that’s exactly what has happened at my feeders over the last 20 years. In June I rarely see more than two or three ruby-throated hummingbirds at a time.

But this year has been dramatically different. On June 16, I counted four hummers. The next day I counted 10; the following day I counted 12.

And every day since, I’ve seen more hummingbirds. Because they move so quickly, making an accurate count is difficult.

Earlier than usual

My point is that my hummingbird population exploded in mid-June this year, a full four weeks earlier than usual. I recorded the first returnee April 26, so they didn’t come back earlier than normal.

They just began reproductive behavior almost immediately upon their return.

Allowing six days for courting and mating, five days for nest building, two days to lay two eggs, 16 days for incubation and three weeks in the nest, that’s 50 days needed to get young out of the nest.

The April 26 arrival date allows time to spare. They were here 53 days by the time I saw young birds at feeders.

And just this week I saw a male hummer doing its U-shaped display flight. I wonder if this year there may even been a second brood.

Question

The question is, why the rush to nest this year? Nothing has changed in my backyard or in the immediate vicinity.

Perhaps it’s a response to climate change. If anything, I was expecting a delayed nesting season because it was such a wet spring.

Hear from readers

I’d like to hear from any readers who have observed similar early nesting success.

In the meantime, I’m filling my feeders twice a day. The little buggers are drinking nearly a gallon of nectar each day.

And just in case you’ve misplaced the nectar recipe, mix one part table sugar with four parts boiling water, cool, then refrigerate. Red dye is not necessary, and never use honey as a sweetener.

About the Author

Scott Shalaway, who holds a Ph.D. in wildlife ecology from Michigan State University, writes from his home in rural West Virginia. A former faculty member at Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma Biological Station, he has been writing a weekly nature column for newspapers and freelancing for magazines since 1986. Send questions and comments to scottshalaway@gmail.com. You can also visit his Web site, http://scottshalaway.googlepages.com. More Stories by Scott Shalaway

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