Interesting Spring and Summer Behaviors in Birds

By Luke Matthews

This is a unique time of year to observe birds in the Sacramento Valley. As the months start to warm, summer migrants continue to arrive and, along with many local species, they are engaging in a wide range of breeding behaviors. Unlike most of the rest of the year, many species have separated into pairs for the breeding season. If you take a minute to observe these pairs, you will notice a few interesting and unique behaviors that can only be seen during this time of year.

Swainson’s Hawks

Nest Building. This is something that you can observe from your backyard or while out in nature. Many smaller species such as doves, finches, and jays will pick up nesting materials in your yard such as grass, hair, or twine. These birds will usually build their nests in nearby bushes or trees. Larger birds, such as Swainson’s Hawks or Ravens, selecting small branches, sticks, and twigs to build their nests, which are usually located high up in trees. There are many other species that can be observed building nests this time of year.

Pair-Bond Defense. Whether the species stay with the same mate for life or if they only form temporary bonds for the breeding season, the males are much more vigilant this time of year. During the breeding and subsequent nesting season males usually guard their female partners from other males. This can most easily observed in waterfowl. Mallards or Canada Geese are extremely aggressive and territorial when protecting their partners and will chase away any unwelcome males in the area.

mallard ducks

Courtship Feeding. As species form their pair bonds and enter into the breeding season it is important for the female to know that she, and her young, will be taken care of. Males will often provide their female partners will gifts of food to reassure her that she has made the right selection. These gifts can be as simple as a male song bird bringing the female a grasshopper to eat; alternatively, they can also be very elaborate such as the acrobatic aerial food transfers by Northern Harriers or White-tailed Kites. During these transfers males will bring a pray item and, meeting the female in mid-air, drop the food for her to catch before returning to her perch.

Keep an eye out for these interesting behaviors, and we’ll have plenty of supportive photos and videos as more wildlife arrive in our rice fields.

Luke Matthews is the Wildlife Programs Manager for the California Rice Commission