“The lark that shuns on lofty boughs to build, her humble nest, lies silent in the field.”
— Edmund Walter
In Boundary County the warm colors of autumn have been replaced with the browns, grays and tans of the approaching winter landscape. Evergreens, out-dressed most of the year by flamboyant trees, stand out. The skies are quieter. Most of the waterfowl and songbirds have left for their wintering grounds.
Trees bare of leaves may look lifeless but, like other living creatures, they are merely in a dormant state. Naked trees also unveiled last year’s nests. Bird nests — woven from grasses, leaves, twigs, feathers, string and other debris — still attached to tree limbs tell much about their inhabitants.
Trees in later fall no longer hide wildlife from our view. A red-tailed hawk, perched on a bare branch, is easily spotted.
Most of us have seen a nest or two, either perched in a leafless tree or lying on the ground after an especially bluster day. Typically used only once for a brief span of time, these nests are essential for breeding and require tremendous amount of energy and time to construct.
Birds’ nests are obvious in late fall. What were leafy forms and dense thickets are now merely a few branches, often revealing the once secret spot where a bird built a nest, then raised its young.
Most birds build or rebuild their nests each year. Some large raptors like bald eagles or osprey, use the same nesting location and simply do home improvements to the previous year’s nest. Other birds build a new nest from scratch each year, as the old nests will typically not make it through winter. However, recycling materials from previous nests or building on top of an old nest is not uncommon in the bird world. Birds that build nests in tree cavities come to mind for this kind of behavior.
Osprey usually return each year to the same nest, which is typically made of sticks, twigs and grass. The pair often adds to the nest each spring, which can result in huge structures exceeding six feet in diameter.
It is not very natural to think of nesting birds in December, but it certainly is far easier to see the empty nests when the trees are without leaves!