The Greatest of Bird Dads

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Next week is Father's Day and we wanted to pay tribute to some of the amazing dads of the natural world.  The holiday is timely, as this time of year you can see many male birds tending to young. This can come in the form of aiding in nest building, feeding young once they are hatched and teaching them to fly. There are seasoned dads and first time dads, but they are all doing their best to raise healthy young- sound familiar? 

In the bird world, males often play a key role in the parenting process from building nests to raising, feeding and protecting the young. For more than 90% of bird species, the male and female “parent” together and provide the intensive care that young birds need. 

Cardinal dad feeding his young. Photo by Leanne LeBlanc

Cardinal Dads

Male Cardinals are very devoted fathers. You may have noticed them romancing and feeding their ladies this courtship season, but now as nesting season is in full swing you may see them feeding their young. Male cardinals are involved in the entire process, starting from selecting a nesting site.  The male will follow alongside the female to view different potential nest sites. During this process you may witness them holding nesting material and calling back and fourth, think of it like having a conversation about where they think may be best. 

Once the site is chosen, the nest building will commence. The female typically does most of the nest building but the male can be seen bringing nest materials to assist in the process. He will also bring her food to keep her well nourished and energized during the process- how sweet.  

After an incubation period of 11-13 days, eggs hatch and there is a brood of cardinal nestlings.

This is when cardinal dads really shine. Once the babies fledge, the male will take on the main role of feeding and caring for them while the female starts on a new nest. Cardinals have multiple broods each nesting season and by spreading the work in this way, they are more successful. Divide and conquer! The pillar of cardinal parenting. 

Oriole Dads

Male Baltimore orioles are another example of a great bird dad. These vibrant birds are devoted fathers. Their role also starts at the nest selection process. The female chooses a nest site and the male fiercely defends the territory. Early spring from end of April to May it is common to see males fighting with each other. If you see a male defending a territory take a close look at the area, there could be a female constructing their remarkable woven nests nearby. Males will sometimes bring and offer nesting material, but it is the female that does the weaving. Orioles tend to have only one brood per season, unlike cardinals, a common difference between migrating and non migrating birds

Once the young have hatched, both parents share the role of bringing food to the nestlings. At first this will be by regurgitation but moves into offering full insects such as caterpillars. In the case of Baltimore Orioles, the female actually moves on first. As the fledglings are reaching independence, the female will move on while the male continues to feed and care for them for several more days. If you have orioles that visit your backyard feeders, it is common to see males bring their fledglings to feed. 

Baltimore Oriole dad feeding fledglings. Photo by Kristen Martyn. 

Watch this sweet video of a male oriole feeding his young. Captured by Leanne LeBlanc. 

Geese Dads

That's right. Geese are great father's. This time of year many people have ... unsavoury.. run ins with geese that seem, angry? They are just protective dads, fiercely defending their mate and their brood. Canada geese in general are top tier parents. The female is solely responsible for nest selection as well as nest building, but the male constantly serves as a fierce body guard, guarding the nesting female, who will remain on the nest in all weather conditions. 

Geese actually mate for life and by all standards have low “divorce rates”. After successfully hatching, goslings are never far from their parents. For this species, young can remain with their parents for the entire first year of life. During this process the father continues to protect and defend both the young and his mate. Male geese are devoted family men and if ever one has hissed at you, you can rest assure he was just being an exceptional father. 

Goose family with goslings close by both parents. Photo by Shayna Hartley. 

There are many exceptional fathers in the bird world and we appreciate the role they play in raising the next generation of birds while also providing us some amazing interactions to observe. 

This Father's Day, make sure to send love and appreciation to the father or father figure in your life. Consider grabbing dad a new feeder, so that he can enjoy these wonderful interactions first hand. 

Two favourites would be: 

1. A Hopper Style Feeder, often used by cardinals. Fill with safflower or sunflower and watch cardinals throughout the nesting season this summer and fall. Better yet, provide our special Nesting Superblend. This blend is specifically formulated to support birds during this high energy expense time of year by providing them with essential proteins and calcium to support them through nesting and molting. 

2. An Oriole Feeder, the gift that keeps giving! Watching these vibrant birds each year is such a special experience, and if you're lucky enough to have a pair nest close by, the experience is quite amazing. Gift your dad the chance to see male orioles raising their young. 

Hats off to all the wonderful dads out there, feathered or not! 



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