Last nest for the year

ROBINS (Turdus migratorius) are one of the most common feathered critters of the bird world. A few stay all winter feeding on berries or fruits. Most however fly south to areas that are warmer and have more food sources. Each spring, robins returning give rise to the saying “the early bird gets the worm.” Warm spring weather, melted snow or spring rains are waking up the soil for another year. Insects are the mainstay food source until invertebrates like earthworms come the surface after warm spring rains soak into the soil.

Today’s image of the nestling robins is likely the last nest for the year. Three nest cycles are common in this part of the Midwest. If each nest has three young, and the estimated worldwide population of robins is pegged at 310 million, that is a huge and temporary increase for this species. Now enter the reality of bird life an survival. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology research believes nest success is only 40 percent. And this additional footnote says that only 25 percent of fledged robin young survive until November. What you or I do not see is the big losses robins endure in the rough and tough survival game they are engaged in. Maybe that is a good thing. But it is fact. In spite of it all, robins as a species are not in trouble worldwide. They are very common.

How long can a robin live? Records show one bird to be 13 years and 11 months old before it died. Most young robins do not see one year of life. Average lifespans in the wild may be three years. And in just six years, the entire population of robins has turned over. Late nests such as the one depicted in today’s photo illustrate that time is running out for adult robins to mate, nest, and successfully raise a brood. From now on, days are rapidly sliding toward shorter. Food sources are still active but they too will deplete. While insects numbers may go down, fruits and berries will increase with the approach of fall. If a robin flock takes to eating honeysuckle berries exclusively, they may become intoxicated. Other species of birds have been reported to act weirdly if fermented fruits are consumed.

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MIGRATION impulses are starting to figure into the equation for some bird species. Early migrators from Iowa include Purple Martins on or about Sept. 1. Rough-winged Swallows leave in early September also. So do Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, and Louisiana Water Thrushes. Already gone are Orchard Orioles on Aug. 2. Eastern cowbirds head south on or about Aug. 24.

Migrations of waterfowl are harder to miss. Flocks of geese and ducks will be noteworthy later this fall both for the size of the birds and the size of flocks. Early cold weather will cause teal to head south in September. On the flip side of this coin are mallard ducks who may wait until thick ice, snow and severe cold in northern country forces them this direction.

Another way to think of season bird movements is to visualize a graph with peak numbers of species each spring and again in the fall. However, between those high points will be lesser numbers that never go to zero. In fact, migration is an all year long process of comings and goings. Most people are too busy working or busy with other endeavors to keep tabs on each and every bird species that lives or moves through Iowa each year. I’ll leave you with this piece of trivia for your conversation corner coffee club discussions….how many total species of birds live here or move through Iowa in a year? Answer: 278. The list is long and can be found on the Iowa Ornithologists’ Union website.

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State Conservation Officer Tyson Brown has completed his assigned August wildlife roadside survey routes within Grundy and Marshall counties. His impression is that numbers of pheasants, quail, gray partridge, rabbit may be similar to last year. His route in northern Marshall and western Grundy found 18 pheasants of which there was one rooster, and two hens with broods of young. A total of nine partridge and three rabbits were also tabulated. Then to add a bit of mystery to the mix, 15 wild turkey were spotted in Northern Grundy. Brown thought that to be a bit odd. But it is what it is.

This writer’s casual and unscientific observations during my travels on rural roads has found occasional pheasants. For me this is a good thing since these my personal feeling about pheasant numbers is that they have increased a nice amount over last year. By the time all the state DNR survey data is plotted and published, trend lines for upland wildlife populations will show if increases are for real. I think they will be. So stay tuned and we will learn together how pheasant populations have adapted. On the plus side for pheasant biology is the fact that last winter snow cover was well under 30 inches and our spring weather was relatively warm and dry. That is a big plus for pheasant survival.

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This fall hunter will have 25,000 acres of private land open for hunting. It is part of a program called Iowa Habitat Access (IHAP) that has been put together on 132 sites across Iowa. In exchange for habitat improvements on portions of those private lands, public access is an ingredient of the program. Contracts range from three to 10 years. “Hunters told us they felt access to private land was an important step to improving their experience and to attracting new hunters to the outdoors. We are fortunate to have this opportunity to provide them with access to these areas through the IHAP, ” said Kelly Smith, private lands program coordinator for the Iowa DNR.

Areas enrolled in IHAP have been or soon will be signed and patrolled by game wardens. These private lands will be treated as public lands for enforcement purposes, even though the lands are private. Respect for private land is critical to the programs success as time progresses into future years. Site maps are available at The maps show boundaries, which species would most likely to be attracted to the habitat. A checkout box will be at each site to allow hunters to comment on the area and their experience. Evaluating the comments will assist in IHAP planning.

I have seen similar maps for private lands open for public hunting in other states. South Dakota and Nebraska come to mind first. Detailed county maps show every rural roadway. And color coded parcel shadings show where those enrolled acres are located. The maps make it easy to find ones way into the back roads of America. Being off the beaten path is always a good thing for outdoors enthusiasts.

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A new APPRENTICE HUNTING LICENSE has been on sale in Iowa since July 13. It allows anyone age 16 or older to bypass hunter safety education requirements for purchasing a hunting license while they give hunting a try under the direct supervision of an experienced, licensed adult hunter.

“We want to reach out to our fellow Iowans who missed hunter education when they were age 12 and who are now in their 20s and 30s and still interested in trying dove or small game hunting,” said Megan Wisecup, hunter education administrator. “If they like it, we can get them in the hunter education program and hopefully they will become lifelong hunters.”

Apprentice hunting licenses includes habitat fee and is available for $30 for residents, non-residents cost is $123. There must be one licensed adult mentor hunter for each apprentice hunter. This special license can be purchased only two times without having completed hunter education course. To learn more about apprentice hunting licenses, go to

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HUNTING funds conservation and the economy by generating $38 billion a year in retail spending throughout the United States.

Garry Brandenburg is a graduate of Iowa State University with BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology. He is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. Contact him at P.O. Box 96, Albion, IA 50005.