Songbirds finish nesting as July lazes on

Barbara Hootman

Many songbirds are finished with raising their last broods for the season; only a few try for a successful nesting in August. Only the Goldfinches and doves look forward to a late nesting season.

As birdsong lessens during the day, cicadas take over with droning sounds until dusk. And then the crickets begin to sing, followed by the katydids at dark.  From midsummer until frost, the nights belong to the singing insects.

Cicadas sing in the heat of the day. According to folklore, you should add three months to the date of the first katydid call to determine the date of the first frost.  Male katydid are the ones that sing loudly at night.

Cicadas and katydids sing for the same reason that birds do - it’s all about attracting mates.  The male birds and  insects produce the songs. Bullfrogs add their sonorous voices throughout summer evenings.

As fledglings learn the ways of the bird world, there is more parental scolding now than birdsong. In the dusk, sphinx moths haunt flower gardens while mosquitoes hum. Late Luna moths bang against screens as they answer the call of lights. Autumn is not far behind.

The Warbling Vireo and the Red-eyed Vireo are back in the Valley with some on their second nests of babies. These summertime visitors add beautiful songs and variety to the bird population.

The Warbling Vireo is a small, colorful bird that chooses to raise its family in the Valley during the summer.

The Warbling Vireo is a plain bird with gray wings and back and a creamy white breast with yellow tinged sides. The little chunky bird inhabits the northern half of the U.S. (the Appalachian Mountains are on the edge of its breeding territory).  Owen Park in Swannanoa is choice real estate for this small bird.  James Poling, a photographer and area birder, said the bird  is about the size of “three nickels.” It migrates to southern Mexico and northern Central America in the fall.

The Warbling Vireo enjoys nesting around people as much as Wrens do.   It especially enjoys urban parks.  The bird eats caterpillars, pupae, snails, adult moths and butterflies.  Vireos also enjoy ladybugs, beetles, bees, ants, wasps and spiders.  In the fall and winter they add elderberries, poison oak, dogwood, and poke berries, sumac, and other fruits to their diet.  They glean insects from the leaves at tree top level, and hunt by hovering.

Both males and females brood the babies. The nest, built by the female, can be as high as 30 feet in trees.

The Red-eyed Vireo is one of the most abundant summer birds in the woods around the Valley. It also forages among the tree tops, finding insects under the leaves. The male sings persistently throughout the day as he searches for food. Researchers report that he can sing up to 20,000 songs a day. Its persistent singing is legendary among songbirds. That is why he is more often heard than seen.

The Red-eyed Vireo makes its home in the Valley during breeding season.

The Red-eyed Vireo is olive green and white and has a distinctive head pattern of gray, black and white. It has a dark eye line and light eyebrow.  There is a hint of yellow on its sides, just as the Warbling Vireo has.  When fall arrives, the Red-eyed Vireo heads for the Amazon basin of South America.

As with the Warbling Vireo, the Red-eyed Vireo’s nest is made of spider webs, bark and other plant materials.  Usually it is suspended in the fork of a horizontal tree branch high in a tree.  Both the male and female feed the babies.

Red-eyed Vireos eat invertebrates, as well as seeds and fruits. Their diets change from season to season. Insects make up at least 95 percent of the summer diet. Caterpillars alone account for at least 50 percent of the diet.  Its population has grown steadily except in the western part of the United States. It is an effective predator of the gypsy moth, fall webworms, scale insects and tree hoppers.

An open car window is an invitation to a young bear cub on the prowl to investigate.

With red eyes that appear dark from a distance, the Red-eyed Vireo lives up to its name.  It is a stocky, small bird with a stubby bill with a hook on the end of it. Its cousin, the Warbling Vireo, has a shorter bill and rounder head than the Red-eyed Vireo.  When the Red-eyed Vireo arrives on its wintering grounds, it switches its diet to an almost all-fruit one.

Wild cherries are ripening, and lizard eggs are beginning to hatch

Indigo buntings are getting ready to leave the Valley, starting their migration.

Keep out plenty of clean, fresh water for drinking and bathing.

Take the bird feeders inside by late afternoon.

May you always hear the whisper of wings.