Saturday, July 31, 2010


I have been pursuing, waiting and watching Northern Parula nests the last 7 years. When you consider choosing, building/weaving of the nest... laying and hatching the eggs and then the fledge... it encompasses about a month of observation for each nest. So over this time period, I have had many interesting moments watching one of the smallest warblers raise their young. The moment that has always escaped me for these 7 years, was the "launch" of the chicks into the world for the first time. You would think that knowing the fledging time of 12-14 days, one could get positioned to catch this fleeting moment... but I have always missed it. For one thing, it is difficult to know the exact time of the egg laying. The nest of the Parula is weaved out of usnea moss, a lichen called "Old Man's Beard", similar to Spanish Moss. They will only nest in this material and when completed, it hangs like a Baltimore Oriole's nest and you can not see into it.

This year I found a nest and watched it for the duration and as I noted in a past thread on the Parula... missed the launch. I must have missed it by minutes or a few hours at the most. I talked to a friend that is a bird expert and he told me to watch the low shrubs for feeding, because he read it was perceived that the chicks could not fly well out of the nest. I spent two days circling the nest and waiting for feeding action... and came up with nothing.

A few days later, farther up my ridge, I noticed a male Parula fluttering around in a wisp of usnea moss hanging from a dead branch.

It was hanging straight down, about 12 feet from the ground. I took photos of the warbler in the moss and watched as a female arrived and started doing the same thing inside the moss. Being that most of the Parulas had finished nesting, I thought nothing of it and left. The next day, I was back in the same area and saw them still around the same hanging moss. The female was starting to weave a nest. I deduced that something must have happened to their old nest; predators or a wind that broke off the branch that holds the nest. This happens quite often, as the moss hangs on dead branches, vulnerable to breakage. At any rate, I started keeping track of the building and watched until I thought she laid her first egg.

I continued watching each day until I knew she was sitting on eggs. I thought I knew the first day she started feeding, so I figured 12 days would be close to the fledge.

A sad note, was that the male disappeared very early into the egg laying. They do not help with the nest building, but they vehemently guard the nest and bring insects to the female on the nest. Something had happened to the male and the little lady was on her own.

This past Wednesday was the 11th day of feeding the chicks. After nearly a month of building, sitting and feeding, the mother Parula hardly noticed me around. As I mentioned, the 12 foot high nest was easy to observe and in the early morning light... I could now see silhouettes of two heads and bills through the weaving above the cup of the nest. On this day they were quite animated and hopped around and even delivered fecal sacs to the mother as she sat in the entrance. I knew launch time would be soon.

The next morning, l walked up the ridge to the nest. When I got there, mother Parula just delivered a bill full of insects to the two youngsters. I stood there for over three hours watching the tykes through the weaving, become more animated. Just before noon I saw the face of a chick in the entrance hole for the first time.

He backed in, mother showed up and fed him and when she left... he crawled out the hole and hung against the moss.

He abruptly took off like a laser beam or a NFL pass analogy, "on a frozen rope."

Interesting enough, the first thought that popped into my head, was no wonder I could never find the fledglings as they fly like little jets without a con trail. So whoever was the author that wrote, "fledgling Parula Warblers have a difficult time flying and feed in low shrubbery." must have been on drugs or a lot of excellent single malt scotch.........

Fortunately I got the following shots, the first ones I have ever taken of fledged Northern Parula Warblers.... it was perhaps one of my most rewarding birding days.

The last photo of mother by the nest.

The "empty nest syndrome"

I'm very concerned for the future of the earth and its amazing creatures. We've got to be careful and make sure we don't foul our own nest. John Lithgow