Wild Wanderings: Nesting in Your Neighborhood

Photo | Orietta C. Estrada A red morph eastern screech owl peers out of its nesting hole.

Photo | Orietta C. Estrada
A red morph eastern screech owl peers out of its nesting hole.

Nesting season is around the corner and, due to rich habitat diversity, Urbana is a unique place to find breeding birds.

Lilypons Water Gardens

The marshy habitat of Lilypons Water Gardens is perfect for species like great blue herons and red-winged blackbirds. Great blues typically build their nests in trees and, at Lilypons, you’ll see them high up along the Monocacy River. They are difficult to spot when the trees leaf out, so now is a good time to orient yourself with their placement. The red-winged blackbirds I’ve encountered at Lilypons construct their nests out of grasses and other long flexible materials. They create a cup-like structure by weaving the materials between blades of tall marsh grasses and reeds. Orchard orioles are my favorite species to see nesting in this area. They can be found along the road at Lilypons. Much like the red-winged blackbirds, they weave their nests into a cup-shape, but orchard orioles do so between forked twigs at the end of a branch. The final product looks like
a miniature straw-woven beach bag.

Sugarloaf Mountain

On Sugarloaf Mountain two breeding bird species that can be heard and seen are eastern screech owls and pileated woodpeckers. Both are cavity nesters, which means that they nest inside of something—usually a tree. The woodpeckers are much easier to find than the owls because you can track their movements to and from their nesting cavity. Male pileated woodpeckers primarily do the excavation of the nest, which takes about three weeks to finish.

Screech owls are perfectly camouflaged and look like bark as they perch on the edge of their tree cavity, which they don’t  excavate themselves. They find prefab homes that are already excavated such as old woodpecker holes or rotted out trees. You’ll need time and patience to find one, but you can still hear them on the mountain at night.

Farmlands and Paddocks

The farmlands of Urbana, including the horse stables, are great places to find ground nesting birds. Killdeer, for example, can be found nesting in paddocks and on gravel roads. They are a small brown shorebird with a white chest and a black, double-necklace of feathers draped across their chest. They sport a headband of black feathers on their forehead. These birds are famous for performing a broken-wing display in which they feign injury in order to lure predators away from their nests. Spot these birds by looking for a petite-bodied, long-legged shorebird that runs along the ground, pauses, bobs, then repeats the routine.

At Home

You can find birds nesting around your home too. House wrens are feisty little songsters that are known to nest in the most
peculiar places such as lawnmowers and woodchippers—even work boots are fair game to them. The best way to discourage
birds from building nests in places that might pose a problem or an inconvenience (e.g., a doorway or where an outdoor cat is present) is to keep these areas debris free. If you notice a collection of twigs or grasses building up in certain areas, it’s fine to remove the twigs. However, if you come across a completed nest, or a nest with eggs in it, you’ll need to contact the Maryland Department of Natural Resources for guidance at 1.877.620.8DNR. It is illegal under federal law due to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act to touch or handle birds, bird eggs, bird feathers, and bird nests without a license. If you live in a cat-free area, consider putting up a nesting box. Nesting birds are a lovely addition to any home.

Whether it’s at Lilypons or on Sugarloaf Mountain, the best way to see nesting birds is to get outdoors!

Send your questions about birds and wildlife around town to orietta@towncourier.com.

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