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Western Spindalis nesting, first U.S. record!

On July 28, 2009 Matthew York and Heidi Trudell found and photographed a male and female Western Spindalis (black-backed race) at Long Pine Key in Everglades National Park.  They not only reported the birds, but saw a brood patch on the female bird present.  A couple of days after the birds were found by  Matt and Heidi other birders reported THREE birds, a male and two females!!!  I was out of town and was not able to go look for them until August 1, 2009. 

Tricia Aufhammer watched and followed the birds, she then was able to find the nest.  On the morning of August 1, 2009 I was finally able to go and look for the spindalis.   Tricia showed me the nest  high in a Slash Pine next to the road.  I did not see the birds right away in the area near the nest.  I decided to go to a road going to a pump house or some kind of park building.  While in that area I heard the call of one of the birds.  After about 15-minutes, I saw two brown birds fighting in the top of a slash pine.  These two birds fell to the ground, I was not sure what they were until I got closer and realized it was two female spindalis fighting like cats and dogs!  The nesting female chased the other female and continued to fight with her.  At one point they were both on the ground fighting with the male watching low in a bush.  I watched the nesting female do this about three times before chasing the other female deep into the pinewoods with the male in tow.  On another visit a couple of days later, I could see the female in the nest either laying eggs or incubating eggs.  During this time the male would sing high in the pines within about 100 yards of the nesting tree.  Around the middle of August the birds hatched young.  On August 26, 2009 I was able to see two young in the nest being feed.  Later that day while looking at photos that I had taken, there were three young in the nest!  Both the male and female would bring fruit to the nest about every 15-30 minutes.  On August 31, 2009 Tricia let me know that the first two young fledged, on September 1, 2009 the last young fledged.

The pinewoods habitat in this area is very similar to where you would find Western Spindalis in the Bahamas.  There are many fruiting shrubs in the area that are perfect food sources for the birds.

What is interesting about the Western Spindalis sightings is that there have been birds reported here before.  On November 11, 2004 Roxanne and Troy found one in the campground of Long Pine Key.  I think that it is possible that there are several birds in the area.  They may have been overlooked in the past few years.  You have to wonder where the other female came from that was chased away by the nesting female.  Perhaps these birds have nested here before!!  It is certainly possible as this area of the Everglades is not birded very often is can be full of mosquitoes!

The park decided that the nest location should not be made public until the young fledged.

I have taken photos of the nest and birds as well as Tricia, Wil and a few others. We have recorded what we have seen at the nest site. Tricia has written detailed notes about the nesting from start to finish.

What is amazing is that we now have a total of six birds present that we know of!

To look for the birds, drive into Long Pine Key in Everglades National Park and park in the parking lot just past the resident building.  Walk north along the road past the resident building to a hammock on the right.  The birds seem to like this area and may be present here.

 Below are some photos taken by me.   

Go to this link to see video by Wil Domke: VIDEO

Western Spindalis, male.

Western Spindalis, male.

Western Spindalis, nesting female.

Below is a photo of the three young about a week old?  Look for the yellow bill on the left, pink in the middle and another pink bill just right of the middle bill.  The third one is next to the branch, you can just barely see it..

Female Spindalis feeding young.

Female feeding the three young.

Male feeding the three young.

Male feeding the young a Dahoon Holly (Ilex cassine) berry.


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