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Nesting season in full swing

Mike Leggett, Venture Out

Staff Writer
Austin 360
These cardinals hatched May 7 and doubled in size in four days. The young birds already are growing the roots of feathers. Nests are easy to find if you watch where birds go after feeding \u2013 just be careful not to disturb the hatchlings or be noticed by their mother.

Our cardinal seems to be nesting in a precarious place: a cenizo beside the front walk.

Her nest is just over waist-high and well-hidden, but it's directly beneath the dripline from the roof, so she's having to stay there constantly right now to keep her babies warm and dry. Ironic that in such a prolonged and bitter drought that rain could be the biggest threat to this little brood.

I worry like a grandfather about them — four little fuzzy, orange and ugly creatures with bulging eyes and bulbous heads — because they've come to represent some kind of rejuvenating experience for us after last year when there was no rain, no water, and birds and animals alike struggled to stay alive.

But nature finds a way, and they're doing well so far, just like the birds in your own backyard or in the hedges at your office or the bridge abutments all over the city. With nesting season in full swing in Central Texas, all of us have the opportunity to watch and observe and enjoy adult birds bringing new baby birds into the population.

And it's not as hard as one might think. Feeders help, of course, by keeping birds close to your home. And it can take a little time to figure out where birds are nesting and which birds they are, but once you do, you'll have a nature stage show that can keep the whole family entertained for weeks, even through most of the summer.

You don't want to be rousting any brooders off the nest, but if you just pay attention to birds coming and going from your feeders — where they go, when they fly into low, thick brush or shrubs — then quietly check those areas, you'll be surprised at how many active nests you can find.

Doves tend to build shockingly flimsy, see-through nests that are almost random in their construction, often in young oaks, just over head-high.

Mockingbirds in the city will choose the same nesting sites, but their nests are more substantial. You can often locate them by paying attention to their territorial displays on top of some of those same small trees. Barn swallows are easy to spot flying out of highway culverts or up in the eaves of your house or barn.

It's not difficult at all to spot the red-tailed hawk nest that's creating a stir at Capital Chevrolet. Owner Nancy Harper says the adult pair has built a substantial nest in a tree just outside the top level of the dealership's parking garage and that employees and customers are enjoying the show as the hawks feed a pair of nestlings.

"I didn't realize those hawks were so big," Harper says. "I would sit inside and watch the hawks flying around out there but I didn't realize for a while that they had the nest there."

Harper says there's a nearby nest that appears to be being used by great horned owls, which have been known to take over hawks' nests as their own. Although there can be territorial disputes between large raptors such as hawks and owls, the birds right now are coexisting quite nicely, and the hawks are moving right along toward fledging their young.

The young birds were first visible in the nest about two weeks ago, Harper says. They should fledge in 6-7 weeks, which means there's at least another month of viewing there.

"I've put a security camera on the nest, and we're streaming that into our waiting area so that people can watch the birds while they wait," Harper says. "But if anybody wants to come see them, we'll be happy to show the nest to them."