Staying cool at the bird bath

PHOTOS BY GARRY BRANDENBURG — When July weather make hot air inescapable, birds seek relief in many ways. One method is to exploit bird baths filled with clean fresh water. In today’s illustration, a Red-winged Blackbird takes advantage of Garry’s backyard bird bath in a most exuberant fashion. By the time this bird finished with its complete soaking and bathing act, over half of the water in the bath had been splashed away. While standing on the bath edge upon completion, its expression may well be a sign of great relief from the heat. For a short time, this bird will have a “bad hair” day. However, it will have cooled itself. That is a good thing. Just like kids at a swimming pool or splash pad area, getting thoroughly wet is the name of the game. And they have fun getting in the process.

RED-WINGED BLACKBIRDS are one of the most common avian critters that call this area home for late spring, summer and into early fall. They prefer to nest in moist or wetland areas. However even a casual hike at the Marietta Sand Prairie Preserve will allow a protective Red-wing to find you, pester you and maybe even peck on your hat if you get too close to its nest. Red-wings can even be found along roadsides where cattail vegetation in the ditch provides nesting sites.

Nest sites built by Red-wings are low among the vertical branches of marsh vegetation, nearby shrubs and small trees such as willows where very dense foliage will hide and conceal the nest from prying eyes of predators or elusive cowbirds looking to lay an egg of their own in someone else’s nest. The nest itself has a woven network of long stringy plant material as a base built around vertical woody or aquatic stems. On top of that will be more leaves and mud to form a cup shaped depression. It will be lined in its final stages with dry grasses.

Two to four eggs will be laid, each being about one inch long and 2/3rds of an inch wide. They will be pale blue to gray colored with black or brown markings. Incubation takes 11 to 13 days. About two weeks after the eggs hatch, those little birds will be out flying around and learning what it takes to become a self-sustaining bird.

Red-wing foods include insects and seeds. They may probe into the stalks of aquatic plants during summer time to extract burrowed insects inside. By this coming fall, seeds of all kinds including ragweed, cocklebur, sunflowers and waste grain in farm fields. Red-winged blackbirds are one of the most abundant native birds of North America. Birding experts have estimated the continental population at 130 million.

JULY WEATHER can be very warm. Hot is a more precise term we humans may apply to the inevitable encounter with an Iowa summer heat wave. Do you remember last January when we couldn’t wait until warmer weather arrived? Yes. And now that warmer weather is here, are some of us hankering for winter’s return? I’ll let you decide.

Weather is fickle. Weather is somewhat predictable. Weather is what we get. Weather is what we must adapt to regardless of what Mother Nature decides to do for us in the northern hemisphere locations. Sunlight rays are most direct at this time of year for the northern hemisphere because the earth’s axial tilt is inclined toward the sun. So it is to be expected that an Iowa summer will live up to its reputation of giving us some really hot air from time to time.

OUR SUN IS A HUGE SOLAR POWER PLANT. From its location in space, the star is made up of 73.5 percent hydrogen and 25 percent helium. The remaining smaller ingredients include heavy elements like oxygen and carbon. A fusion zone is located in the sun’s core which takes up about one fourth of the sun’s radius. That temperature is 15 million degrees in the core. This internal cooking by tremendous heat and high pressures allows hydrogen atoms to fuse into helium atoms via a series of interim steps. The mass of each helium atom is slightly less than the sum of the mass or the original four hydrogen atoms needed to form it. That difference in mass is released as energy. An according to Albert Einstein’s mass energy equivalent equation E= mc squared, that energy is precisely equal to the mass difference times the square of the speed of light. I thought the readers of this column would like to know that fact. Now you do.

Sun energy from the production zone internally finally makes its way to the sun’s surface in the form of radiation. Huge rolls of fire and convection cells take over this transport of energy. Emerging electromagnetic energy of radiation is emitted into space where it passes through the atmosphere of the sun and its corona. We can see the corona as a halo around the sun when it is blocked by a total eclipse of the sun. Light energy escaping from the sun travels at the speed of light and takes on average just eight minutes to travel 93,000,000 miles to reach earth’s atmosphere and surface.

Meanwhile, back on planet earth, observers of things wild and free have taken note of new life. One example was a new brood of turkey poults who gave this author a big smile this week. While traversing one of the natural areas where I like to conduct hikes, several adult hen turkeys and their young bolted from tall grass. I estimated that between the two hens, there were at least one dozen young. The poult’s body size was about equal to a hen pheasant. They are growing fast.

Also this week while at another wild area I frequent, a doe deer was surprised by my presence as she jumped out of tall grasses and ran away from me. We were never really close, but still close enough, that I could obtain a great view. In tow was her little single fawn who did a great job of keeping up with mom. I smiled. It was good to see them so lively and alert.

HICKORY GROVE LAKE’s water remaining in its pool is very low. That makes remaining fish vulnerable to a management task to happen soon. As part of the lake renovation process, removal of rough fish is one of the last steps. I noted this in my Outdoors Today column several weeks ago. During the actual day of rotenone application, the park will be closed to the public. Iowa fisheries staff will conduct the chemical application. Hickory Grove will begin refilling this fall and through the winter and into next spring. Restocking of game fish will take place in a series of steps during this entire time.

“Don’t save everything for a rainy day…you will miss a lot of rainbows.” — Anonymous

Garry Brandenburg is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. He is a graduate of Iowa State University with a BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology.

Contact him at:

P.O. Box 96

Albion, IA 50005


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