- Written by Clyde McMillan-Gamber Clyde McMillan-Gamber
Southeastern Pennsylvania meadows, dotted with deciduous trees both young and mature, are beautiful farmland habitats.
And a variety of small birds nest in them, including Baltimore orioles, orchard orioles, eastern kingbirds, red-headed woodpeckers, eastern bluebirds, tree swallows, red-winged blackbirds, and eastern phoebes.
All these species eat invertebrates in summer and have attractive plumages. And each kind has its own niche, which reduces competition for nesting sites and food among the species.
Female Baltimore orioles, orchard orioles, and kingbirds build nurseries on tree twigs in pastures.
Baltimore orioles place their deeply pouched cradles on the ends of twigs, particularly on larger sycamore trees along creeks and streams. Orchard orioles and kingbirds create nurseries on the inner twigs of trees.
Both the colorful oriole species consume invertebrates from shrubs and trees. Kingbirds, however, snare flying insects from the air.
The striking red-headed woodpeckers are attracted to one or two dead, but still-standing, trees among living trees in pastures. Red-heads, like all woodpeckers, chip out cavities in dead wood in which to raise young. They eat invertebrates from inside dead wood and off living trees.
Bluebirds and tree swallows compete for abandoned woodpecker holes and other hollows in dead trees in meadows. But the lovely bluebirds ingest invertebrates from shrubbery and grass, while the handsome swallows catch flying insects in midair, thus reducing rivalry for food.
Small colonies of red-winged blackbirds rear babies in cattail marshes in low parts of some meadows. The black males, sporting red shoulder patches, sing from swaying cattails, while their mates attach nests of cattail leaves and grass to standing cattail stalks a couple of feet above the water or shorelines.
Phoebes traditionally nest on rock ledges under sheltering, overhanging boulders near streams in woods. And pairs of phoebes build cradles of mud and moss on support beams under small bridges on rural roads spanning streams that border tree-dotted pastures. Phoebes nab flying insects in midair.
These beautiful and interesting birds help make an already pretty, human-made habitat even more attractive to nature explorers.
And these lovely nesting birds increase their numbers by adapting to niches created by people, for people. These are winning situations in human-made environments.
Clyde McMillan-Gamber is a retired Lancaster County Parks naturalist.