At our summer home on Cape Cod, we’re lucky to have a wonderful variety of songbirds. Some of these take advantage of the bird boxes scattered about the property. In recent years, we’ve had chickadees, tufted titmice, and great crested flycatchers use the boxes. This year, the flycatchers are back to set up their nest, and white-breasted nuthatches are already feeding their hatchlings.
When I arrived on the afternoon of May 27, about 10 days later than usual, a great crested flycatcher was atop the box, waiting to greet me. These birds, about an inch or so shorter than a robin, are common in summer east of the Rockies. They favor deciduous woodlands, so the Outer Cape’s transition from almost pure pitch pines to mixed forest perhaps accounts for the increasing presence of this species, once considered rare in migration and sparse as a local nester.
These flycatchers are easy to identify, both by their lovely brown-and-yellow color and also by their raucous “whee-eep!” cries and noisy chattering. After an extended period of nest building, accompanied by constant vocalizations, the birds go mostly silent until the young are ready to leave the nest. Two years ago, the entire process took five weeks, from the start of nest building on June 9 until the young fledged on July 16. This year nest building began at the end of May.
Our other local nesters so far this spring are a pair of white-breasted nuthatches. This is the first time they have used one of our nest boxes, and fortunately they picked the one easily visible from our screened porch. This species is common year-round throughout most of the U.S., and also ranges to Mexico and southern Canada. We call them the “ank-ank” bird, because of their frequently repeated nasal calls.
When feeding their young, the parents take turns flying from the nest box and bringing back insects. From our porch, I can hear the baby birds crying for food and watch the almost certainly exhausted adults providing snacks from sunup till sundown.