By TTF Intern, Emilie Wetzel
Everything’s Ducky at Tacony Creek Park! Spring is here, and so are the birds!
In early April, a group of bird-lovers (and a friendly neighborhood cat!) came out to the I and Ramona gateway of Tacony Creek Park for our monthly “Nature’s Hidden Surprises.” This month’s walk focused on bird-watching, and despite the blustery weather, local environmental educator Judith Gratz helped us identify the calls of almost 20 bird species.
Before we set out on our walk, Judith explained that different birds prefer different types of habitat. You’re more likely to find Red-winged Blackbirds fluttering in flocks in meadows at Tacony Creek Park than any other park spot. White-breasted Nuthatches like forests, and can be seen perching on tree trunks (sometimes even upside-down!) as they search for insects in the bark. On our walk, we saw a pair of Nuthatches emerge from a hole in a tree where they were likely feathering their nest in preparation for laying eggs. Nuthatches are cavity-nesters — they make their nests within tree holes and bird boxes.
The most common bird we saw was the American Robin, with many seen hopping across Fisher’s Glen Driving Range in search of worms. Among the trees, we saw cardinals, blue jays, chickadees, and flickers.
The most exciting birds we saw were the waterfowl! You almost always expect to see Canada Geese in Tacony Creek Park, but it’s not every day that you get to see Hooded Mergansers diving beneath the water, while Wood Ducks and Mallards float nearby! We saw both male and female Wood Ducks. We noticed that they looked very different, despite being the same species. Judith explained that they are dimorphic: males and females of the same species look very different. Typically, when birds are dimorphic, males have brighter colors and flashier patterns on their feathers, while the females have duller, more muted colors. This is certainly the case with Wood Ducks. Wood Ducks are also cavity-nesters, and will build their nests as high as 60 feet off the ground within a hole in a tree!
In addition to spotting a handful of lounging deer, a raccoon, and our friendly feline companion, we identified 19 bird species including:
American Robin (20); Red-winged Blackbird (15); European Starling (6); Northern Cardinal (6); Mourning Dove (1); Blue Jay (3); Carolina/Black-capped Chickadee (4); Tufted Titmouse (2); White-breasted Nuthatch (2); Carolina Wren (1); House Sparrow (2); Wood Duck (4); Hooded Merganser (2 female); Canada Goose (2); Mallard (1); Red-tailed Hawk (2); Red-bellied Woodpecker (1); Downy Woodpecker (1); Northern Flicker (2).
At the end of our walk, Judith opened up a box of Milkweed seeds and we could spread the seeds in a park meadow. The little white fluff attached to these black seeds helps them fly through the air like parachutes. Spreading these seeds is important! Milkweed is the primary food source for adult Monarch butterflies, a species whose population has decreased in size by 90 percent in the past 20 years. You can learn more about how you can help at Bring Back the Monarchs.
Judith sent us all home with Dill seeds for our gardens. This herb tastes great with fish, grilled potatoes, and salads, but more importantly serves as an important food source for butterfly larvae, including endangered Monarch butterflies.
More photos here!