American Redstarts at the nest

Click here for HD version (a little less than HD resolution due to use of digital zoom)

This two minute video was recorded yesterday afternoon at one of our field sites in Frontenac Provincial Park. I stumbled across this site on a point count route that spans predominantly young deciduous forest from the Trail Centre to Big Salmon Lake. The site is an unusual “island” of mature hardwoods surrounded by rock barren meadows and successional forest. Arriving at my point count station in the interior of this mature woodlot, I knew it was going to be a busy ten-minute survey as a dizzying variety of breeding birds were wheeling about in all directions. Scarlet Tanager, Yellow-throated Vireo, Ovenbird, Least Flycatcher and American Redstarts were the most conspicuous species noted. The male redstarts were particularly memorable, singing from everywhere and seemingly at all times. In this region of the Frontenac, American Redstarts are most numerous in wet deciduous woodland with a dense shrub understory and this site has it in spades.

I spent a good 3-4 hours at this site on a previous visit in search of nests for the purposes of gathering data on breeding demographics of regionally “common” landbird species. The American Redstart nest featured above took over an hour to locate as I followed the male on a proverbial “wild goose chase” to an array of curious locations throughout the forest without any success until I finally tracked down a female carrying food to a nest about 7m high in the main fork of a young maple. Males can be polygynous, often holding court with multiple nests, mates and territories within the same breeding season. This might explain why the male seemed to be leading me around through such a large area.

I revisited the nest on the following day, a rather wet and dreary afternoon, with the intention of filming the adults feeding young at the nest. The chicks were just a few days from fledging and were therefore demanding a lot of attention in the form of proteins and household maintenance. The chicks were no doubt getting restless with the cramped conditions as no less than four of them, nearly full grown, were packed into this little cup nest. The chicks frequently stretched and flapped their wings in the time I was there. Both male and female were appropriately attentive, visiting the nest equally as much, about 5 visits/hour per adult individual. Both sexes carried away fecal sacs from the young and the male seemed to bring a substantially larger total mass of food to the nestlings. It was hard to identify the offerings from a distance but it seemed as though moth caterpillars were the food of choice. I also noted that the female would brood the young during brief periods of the heaviest precipitation. The pair were fascinating to watch, particularly the male, who was an amazingly adept hunter of green larvae hiding in the foliage.

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