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It’s in your nature: Why is Bird Territoriality Important?

It started about the beginning of April.

I couldn’t keep the two vehicles in our driveway free of bird droppings. The four rear view mirrors and the rear window of my pickup were covered with white, chalky, bird droppings.

I assumed it was one of the male cardinals we fed all winter attacking his image in the mirror. One of his primary purposes here is to establish a territory. A bit surprising though was after putting out a folding chair and watching the happenings, it wasn’t only the male cardinal. A female was actually pecking the mirrors, and more often than the male.

Researching it a bit, I found out the female cardinal is very territorial as well. It more unusual for females to defend their territory. Not to be outdone, a male song sparrow alternated from singing from the top of one of the spruce trees, to repeatedly flying against the back window of my truck.

Looking closer, I noticed a days’ worth of bird droppings underneath that window. Some friends and some readers shared their bird mirror attacking stories as well this spring.

Of course, male birds have other territoriality techniques and ploys. Most male birds, with sexual chromatism, are brighter than their potential mates.

Birders, and of course ornithologists, know that generally the male birds arrive to their ancestral breeding grounds first (maybe your backyard) to show off their bright plumage. Between the male cardinal’s attacks in my vehicle’s mirrors, he also heads to a higher point where he displays his plumage and does his best “crooning like Sinatra.”

Some birds sing more than others. I’m an early riser and on many warm nights, some of our windows remain open. Well before sunrise, the male robin in our yard is singing and singing.

That often continues for hours. If you take a walk in a nearby woodland, wood thrushes, ovenbirds, Carolina wrens, and the tireless red-eyed vireos don’t leave a single quiet moment. But it certainly is calming.

Now, why is the window attacking, bright plumage, and singing so important? By definition: “territorial behavior is the defense of an area used for breeding, foraging, or other activities essential for survival. “Simply put, the two male robins that “duke it out” in your front yard are testing to see who’s the strongest. If the strongest, most colorful, best food supplying mate gets the best territory, the more likely they’ll have a successful brood and of course keep perpetuating the species. That doesn’t mean the “losing robin” can’t have success, but maybe someone else’s yard won’t supply as much food.

I’d like to stress that by birds establishing their territories it forces pairs of vireos as an example) to spread out to maybe more distant or untested territories. This actually results in better success for the red-eyed vireo species to grow and expand.

Hopefully, all the returning breeding birds to The Times News region can dissipate across the countryside finding perfect or optimum territories to continue their reproduction. Nature sure can be intriguing.

Test Your Outdoor Knowledge:

True/False Baltimore orioles have two nests each summer.

Last Week’s Trivia Answer:

Barn, tree, cliff, bank, and rough-winged swallows all nest in this paper’s coverage area.

Male mockingbirds sing to hold their territories from competing males. However, you may have witnessed their aggressive behavior chasing much larger birds away, such as crows or blue jays. BARRY REED/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
One species that seems to tolerate others in their “space” is the barn swallow. At an active farm with plenty of barn space to “rent,” you can often find a dozen or more active nests. My conjecture is that these sleek, streamlined birds forage across dozens of acres of fields finding ample flying insects on which to feed and competition for food is not as great.
Red-eyed vireo males are probably the champion of singers in our local forests. Their repetitive songs seem like they are just happy birds, but it is a constant reminder to other males of its species that this part of “Penn Forest Township” is his claimed territory.
The northern parula warbler is found in this paper's coverage area. They like a mixed deciduous and conifer habitat which isn't available everywhere. So by establishing and keeping his territory, the best fitted male has the better chance of having the most successful broods each summer.