Saturday, May 14, 2022

A Belated Mother's Day

We all know Mother's Day is a Hallmark holiday and that mothers (and fathers) should be celebrated all year long, not just on a pre-determined day. I am not writing about my own Mother’s Day this year. Mothers come in all forms. Mothers are special in the wildlife realm as well. This is a bit of a belated Mother's Day story.

Back on April 10-12, I noticed a pair of Sandhill Cranes making a nest. I was familiar with this behavior because I have seen it before. They love marsh grasses and cattail grass. While both parents gather the grasses, Mama Sandhill stands in the center stomping it down. Two years ago I watched this same process very close to my deck, but unfortunately it didn't end so well.  
That is why I anxiously watched and am so delighted to see a successful hatch this year. I have read that Sandhill Crane pairs mate for life, and they usually return to the same area. I am hoping this pair is the same pair as I have seen for a few years, but I will never know that for sure. Around April 13, I noticed they had begun sitting on the nest. Since both mom and dad sit on the nest, I am not sure which is which.  I think the female sits all night and about mid morning he comes to give her a break. He sits until early evening when she returns for the night shift. If he doesn't return in a timely fashion, she starts hollering until he comes back. I believe it's the female yelling because the males usually call with their heads straight up toward the sky. A Female’s call is usually from a horizontal position. The weather was cold, windy, and rainy at times, but they persevered and made it through.  

Their eggs usually hatch in 28-30 days, but Baby Sandhill arrived on day 27, May 10. We had 90 degree temperatures and the young one probably couldn't stand the heat. It needed to escape. It was really hard to see the hatch, but I could see the egg shell. If you look closely, you can see shell in the next photo.

Less than 24 hours later the parents have left the nest with their offspring following close behind. They did return to the nest and incubated all night. I was hoping the second egg would hatch, but it appears to be abandoned. It probably wasn't viable. I briefly saw the egg when she stood up to stretch, but about mid morning they left again and haven't returned to that nesting spot. 

It will be so much fun to watch how fast the baby grows. I really hope they stay in this location for a while. They are surrounded by water and it seems safe from predators.  Although they wandered off a little further today and I lost track of them for a while, they returned and currently are directly across from my deck. The baby can't fly so wherever they go, it will be on foot. The baby has grown already and it's only a few days old at this point.

My other nesting pair are Mourning Doves. I decorate my porch for all seasons. Last summer I had a hanging basket lined with some type of fiber. When fall came, I removed the flowering plant I had in it and put in some fall foliage. Then in the winter I put in some pine cones, pine boughs and colored balls. This spring I removed the boughs but left the hanging basket thinking I would be getting some flowers soon. We didn't know that Mother Nature had a different plan for us this Spring.  It was way too cold here in Wisconsin to put flowers outside. On April 23, I noticed some activity in the basket. I often see birds perch on the porch so I didn't think a lot about it. Then my porch camera started to go off. A pair of Mourning Doves was preparing a nest in the basket. He would bring items, and she would arrange them. Usually Mourning Doves are pretty sloppy with their nest building. I have had them build nests with only a half dozen criss-crossed sticks out in the open on a platform. These nests never did well and blew away almost immediately. They often lay eggs and raise babies under our deck on a flat cross beam. This is the first time I saw them take such care with the nest. He brought feathers, flowers from a dried up hydrangea bloom, little twigs and pine straw. 

When everything was arranged as they liked it, the egg laying began. As with a lot of birds, or at least the ones I have observed, they lay one egg a day. I have watched the bluebirds do it. They usually lay 4-6 eggs in total. I have seen the wood ducks do this as well. Incubation doesn't start until all the eggs are laid. Mourning doves have several broods so they usually only have two eggs.

When all the eggs are laid, the process begins. I don't know the male from the female but they do take turns sitting on the nest. I have to go out my front door on occasion but if I am quiet, they aren't disturbed. I was worried they would be so stressed out by having to leave each time the door opened that they would abandon the nest. That is not the case. She (or he) just watches but doesn't fly off unless startled. 

Incubation for a Mourning Dove is only 10 days compared to almost 30 days for the Sandhill Cranes, and the Mourning Dove babies arrived on May 12. This was just after the first egg hatched and before the second egg. You can see the egg is cracking in the next photo. The mom immediately removed the egg shell after the hatch.

It has been an exciting few days.  I hope the Sandhill family does well and I will see them visit my bird feeders as soon as the baby can forage. For the first ten days, the parents feed it but then the colt is on its own.  I don't worry as much for the Mourning Doves.  They grow very fast and are on their own.  This pair will probably have more broods this summer.  They will have to nest elsewhere because I need my porch for my flowers!