Late spring is baby season for our birds in Florida. This year we had baby cardinals, red bellied woodpeckers, blue jays, doves, and crows all competing for food at our feeder in the backyard. The most demanding by far were the three woodpecker babies. They whined and cried for Mom and Dad to fill their little bellies from dawn to dusk.
But my favorite to watch this year was the Great Crested Flycatcher family, who took up residence in the nest box in our front yard. Mom and Dad courted for weeks with their distinctive whistles. I would catch a flash of gold fly through the trees as they pursued insects. Finally I heard the sweet little peeps coming from the box. I warned people to keep their distance so they wouldn’t be stressed while caring for their little ones.
Late one afternoon, I watched one of the parents return to the box with a large dragonfly in its beak. One tiny head, mouth wide open, was peering out of the box hole. The dragonfly was quickly stuffed into that little mouth. I was astounded. The insect was almost the size of the baby bird, but it gulped the bug right down!
The next morning I heard a bang on the front window. It was fledge day! Clinging to the screen, the little guy looked around at the big world outside the box. He then fluttered to the ground as his parents nervously flitted from tree to tree. Two more little faces appeared at the hole in the box while they waited for their turn.
Fledge day is a dangerous time for the little ones. They leave the security of the nest, and there are many predators waiting for the opportunity to pounce. The babies can’t fly well, and the parents have to get them tucked away in the safety of the bushes. Across the street I spied the neighbor’s huge orange tabby cat, licking his paw and eyeing me. He’s always on the prowl, and I’ve found piles of feathers in my yard that I believe are his handiwork. Risking the neighbor’s ire, I politely asked if he could keep the cat inside for the day to give the fledglings a fighting chance of surviving the day. Thankfully he agreed.
By day’s end all three babies had left the nest. The front yard feels sadly empty and quiet again. If I’m lucky, a pair will return next spring, and I’ll have the privilege to watch another family grow. But for now…I miss them.