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Many birds go for two broods per season

The air was as heavy as it was thick. Magnificent dark clouds rose high from the west, but there was not a drop of rain or the slightest breeze.

The calm was surreal and made me uneasy. An eerie orange glow hung over my land where the birds suddenly stopped their calling and then it happened: a tremendous crack of thunder, a crashing rain, and a blinding flash of light. Yet when the storm was over, the heat and humidity was much the same, and the birds wasted little time resuming their busy lives.

In the early days of summer, not even a classic thunder storm can slow down our wild birds. For today, they are caught up in the drama of caring for their hungry, demanding offspring. While some species have fledged and left their nests, others have already learned to fly and feed themselves. So it truly is an active time for birds. In fact, a few species are now starting on their second brood.

Robins are among that group: sometime back in the very first weeks of spring, robins began their breeding cycle. They responded to the increasing light, and when the air temperatures held steady between 47 and 62 degrees, they started. Consequently, a robin’s first nest is often placed in an evergreen because their young hatch well before the trees fully leaf-out in May.

House wrens arrived at my yard in late April and, like most passerines (perching birds), they immediately started the business of nesting. It all began with the male’s notorious effervescing and boisterous song. I watched the male and female check out every nest box I had available before deciding on one and proceed to fill it with a platform of twigs.

There, the pair remained, and like the robin, will go on to raise a second brood.

Likewise, the catbirds that nested alongside of my deck in the dense cover of a healthy hemlock have also started with their second brood.

Once again, I am greeted each morning with the male’s squeaky tropical song. Later in the day, when the heat builds up beneath the mid-morning sun, I hear the distant lazy atmospheric song of my resident rose-breasted grosbeak, which tells me that it too has tried for a second brood.

The list of birds that go for two broods per season is long — but none of them can compete with the shy and gentle mourning dove. Mourning doves often raise three or four broods and in the South are known to raise six broods. Imagine the energy it must take to raise that many young.

Unfortunately, the survival rate for fledglings is rather low. You might look at multiple broods then as an assurance that a few offspring will survive and keep the population going. The robin is a good example: only 40% of nests successfully produce young. From those young, only about 15% will go on to breed the next year.

After the storm had passed and the dark clouds faded to soft hues of gray gilded gold by the emerging sun, I went out into the yard to watch the birds return. As I stood there, I saw the robins flying back and forth from their nest and the house wrens, too. I watched and listened while the other birds began to sing as if it were morning. And I realized, this was the summer at its climactic peak, and the pulse of life seen in the birds, was now vibrant, and all around me. The fledglings held the bright promise of tomorrow.

Robert Tougias is a Colchester-based birder. His book "Birder on Berry Lane" is now available. You can ask him questions at roberts90gtias@yahoo.com.

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