Late July brings a flurry of birds and blooms

Barbara Hootman Columnist

Late July belongs to the birds and juvenile animals learning to survive and carve out a niche for themselves. It is mid-summer now, with sunrise arriving a few minutes later than last month. There is still plenty of light left at the end of the day before dusk as katydids begin to announce the arrival of evening.

You hear the change in the season in the bird calls. There are fewer songs of pure ecstasy as there were a month ago, and more parental alarm calls and scoldings. Dusk belongs to the doves and wood thrush. The insect chorus drones throughout the afternoon and night. Time is a month past the summer solstice, and the sun is reaching south. Daylight has already lessened by half an hour.

The house wren still sings in full voice as other birds grow mute. The bird is smaller than a chickadee, and songs literally bubble out of its tiny body. Clutches of starlings just out of the nests are awkward hopping from limb to limb, getting their bearings in a strange new world. There are plenty of speckled breast fledgling robins running along after their parents begging for food. Soon their sheltered lives in backyards will give way to the pull of fall migration.

Now is kindergarten for fledgling birds. They have to learn quickly and be able to apply what they learn just as quickly. The first year of a bird’s life is the most dangerous.

The excessive heat recently reiterates that summer rules. We are approaching the pinnacle of spring and summer seasons that have been about the surge to maturity. Now maturity gives way to harvest.

Chicory is in bloom along the road sides in soft blues. It is an immigrant weed, coming from Europe as a cultivated plant. Its leaves were prized for salad making. The older leaves and stems were used, especially in France, as a substitute for coffee. Its blossoms open only to greet sunshine. If it is overcast, Chicory blooms do not open. The hotter it gets, the better the plant seems to like it.

The summer red-bellied woodpecker is more evident at backyard feeders now. It has a harsh rolling “churr” sound that announces its arrival. It likes suet and black oiled sunflower seeds. Usually there are two broods of babies a year. They are tended by both adults. Now is a time of freedom for many of the red-bellied woodpeckers. With babies out of the nest, the adults have time to forage more leisurely rather than have to find enough food for the ever hungry nestlings.

They prefer insects, spiders, nuts, insect larvae, ants, fruits, and seeds from annual and perennial plants. Grapes and berries and even oranges are enjoyed in the summer. They eat more seeds from feeders in the winter. The bird can stick out its tongue at least two inches past the end of its beak. The tip is barbed and the bird’s spit is sticky, making it easier to catch bugs.

Dead and decaying trees are essential to the red-bellied woodpeckers and their offspring. They harvest insects from snags and use them for nesting sites. Often the same tree attracts a mated pair year-after-year, but a new nest cavity is excavated. Woodpeckers drum to locate insects, and to announce territories. They listen intently for insects moving under the bark of trees.

Sometimes you find the red-bellied woodpecker wedging nuts in the bark of a tree. They also use cracks in trees and wooden fence posts, which are becoming increasingly scarce, to store nuts.

They often push other birds aside at feeders, but not the blue jays. Both birds enjoy cracked corn scattered on the ground. When a red-bellied comes in for a landing at a platform feeder, it scatters seeds, and birds of all sizes. Its size and unusual call makes it intimidating.

The red-bellied woodpecker’s nests are often taken over by starlings. There is no evicting them. The woodpeckers give up and start over on another cavity.

Watch for late nesting birds which include mourning doves that can have four to five clutches a year, and some robins will continue to lay eggs into August. Goldfinches are the last birds to nest in the season, and they are in a courting mood now.

Cicadas sing during the afternoons and katydids serenade at night.

Remember that rattlesnakes hunt from late afternoon through the night.

Box turtles are laying eggs.

Wild black cherries ripen to the delight of bears and birds.

Flying squirrels eat at night, and enjoy black oiled sunflower seeds.

Keep out plenty of fresh water, and keep the bird baths free of algae. Birds need water for drinking and bathing. Take the bird feeders inside by late afternoon to prevent hungry bears from tearing them apart.

May you always hear the whisper of wings.