Dating and Mating

The wonder of living near a natural bird habitat.

This blog title probably caught your attention. I hope you won’t be disappointed when you learn that it’s all about birds. Not the birds and the bees, just birds. We’ve always loved birds but until we moved to the property at Cherry Creek Guest House, which borders the East Gallatin River, we didn’t really understand the complexity of their mating habits. 

Not being experts, we’ve categorized our ornithological experience into four stages – dating, mating, nurturing, and migrating. Around here, the process typically begins in May and is a clear indication that winter is yielding to warmer temperatures. 

The loudest participants on the local dating scene are the waterfowl. The courtship is not a one-day occurrence but goes on for several days and even weeks before the couples settle onto their nests. While geese mate for life, ducks form seasonal bonds, or seasonal monogamy according to Ducks Unlimited. It’s not unusual for us to see the drakes and hens out for an evening stroll, especially after rain, while they gather food and solidify their partnership. Pheasants are usually found on the run as they spend most of their time on the ground, rushing for the cover of bushes. Researching for this blog, I learned that many species re-nest up to four times in a single season. Typically, this is due to the destruction of their clutch, approximately 12 eggs, by predators. 

In contrast to the cacophony produced by the waterfowl, songbirds perform a melodic symphony that begins with sunrise and continues throughout the morning. Less aggressive about their mating practices, much of their attention is focused on the location and construction of their nests. We’ve installed many bird houses on our property that shelter these young families and make for fascinating observations from a distance that is safe for our tiny tenants. 

Our neighborhood pair of Sandhill Cranes keep to the marshes around the river and on a lucky day, we will see the majestic Great Blue Heron cruise in for a landing. While they don’t mate near us in the spring, fall will bring a new flock of Wild Turkeys into the mix with the male toms flashing their colorful feathers and strutting around the back yard. 

In a class of their own, the Great Horned Owls that live in our neighborhood hold a special place in our hearts after we rescued an injured male several years ago. Thanks to the Montana Raptor Conservation Center in Bozeman, this incredible creature was rehabilitated and returned to his family. If we listen carefully, we can hear them hooting in the pine trees at night. 

As incredible as the above-mentioned birds are, it is the raptors that have captured our fascination. These birds of prey safely nest in the tallest trees, and we often watch them hunt from their high perches. We were spell-bound the first time we witnessed the Red Tailed Hawk mating habits. They circle each other hundreds of feet in the air before joining talons and spinning toward the ground at high speed, making a shrill cry. It is exhilarating to watch. We are fortunate to have stately Bald Eagles and fish eating Osprey amongst our flying neighbors and have taken countless photos from our back deck, bird book in hand to identify newcomers to the landscape. 

Top Left: Red Tail Hawk, Top Right: Red Tail Hawk pair, Right Middle: Osprey, Lower Left: Bald Eagle, Middle bottom: Mating pair Sand Hill Cranes, Lower Right: Juvenile Bald Eagle

The one constant amongst each species is their prolific procreation as they follow the most effective mating strategy to ensure the continuation of their lineage. Protecting their young is something they are fierce about. We frequently see the smallest of parents taking on much larger birds, even raptors, to protect their nesting brood. 

Summer never lasts long enough in the Gallatin Valley, so we know we must take advantage of this time of year before our feathered friends head south for the winter to warmer climates and return to start the cycle all over again next spring.

The opportunities for your next Montana adventure are unlimited and Cherry Creek Guest House is ready to serve as your home away.

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