Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Noisy New Nestlings Blue

Noisy noisy noisy!  The bluebird hatchlings are growing at a rapid rate. I'm afraid to look inside for fear of scaring them into fledging early---but you should hear them when Madame or Sir arrive at their doorway with a feeding.

At first, they were silent, and the parents came and went less frequently.   On about day four, I could hear faint chirpy murmurings from inside the nest if I put my ear to it, but could hear nothing from a short distance.  Both parents took turns entering and leaving the house with morsels.  In thirty minutes they could be observed coming and going two or three times.

Now, on day 10, it's a constant parade of Madame and Sir taking turns bringing food to the door.  The nestlings must be much taller and more aggressive by now, because the parents no longer enter the house to feed them.  They only perch on the doorway,  hand off their offerings, then fly off to find more. The nestlings make such a clamor when either of their parents arrive at their doorway, I can hear them from the swing---even from the house, if the windows are open---my house, not theirs---which is maybe 50 yards away.

Thankfully, I'm not responsible for feeding these babies.  They are running their faithful parents ragged.  Occasionally I see Sir carry off a white vitamin shaped capsule, which I think is a fecal sac.  Cleaning the bathroom.  I remember watching Father Housewren do the same another year.  Even saw him swallow it once.  Probably quite nutritious.  I can see why they might have to eat the fecal sacs.  They have no time to find food for themselves, so busy are they kept feeding their demanding brood.  dkm

Will try to get a picture of the nestlings for next post---just one peek.   Must get it before Day 13, says the North American Bluebird Society.   Here's what else NABS says about monitoring bluebird nest boxes, if you're interested, but I can assure you, I'll not be handling the chicks:


It is very important that bluebird nest boxes be actively monitored (checked) at least once a week. Doing so increases the chances of success for bluebirds using the box and also is valuable for determining population trends. A box that is not monitored may be more harmful than helpful to bluebirds. All bluebird boxes should be built so that they can be opened either from the side, front, or top.
Monitoring nest boxes will alert you to problems the birds may be having with blowfly parasitism. Uncontrolled, the larvae of this species may weaken or possibly even kill the nestling bluebirds. If you identify larvae in the nest, you should replace all the nest material with dried lawn clippings in a shape similar to that of the original nest. This will increase the chance that the chicks will survive. Many bluebird enthusiasts replace all nests holding chicks periodically even before the blowfly larvae are visible. You should also replace any nest with young birds that has been saturated following rainfall. This is especially important during cold periods.
Being aware of what species is using the box is also beneficial. Bluebird societies would like you to monitor and report all species using your nest boxes, not just bluebirds. Species such as bluebirds, tree swallows, house wrens, and chickadees are all native and beneficial birds. Mail survey forms submitted at the end of the nesting season allows the identification of population trends in each species.
House (English) sparrows and European starlings are non-native species introduced from Europe and their aggressive seizure of cavity nest sites is the main reason for the rarity of bluebirds today. Starlings nest in many of the natural nest sites but can be excluded from nest boxes by only using 1 1/2 or 1 9/16 inch entrance holes. House sparrows can readily enter bluebird nest boxes and frequently kill bluebirds, destroy their eggs, or drive them from their nests. At no time should they be allowed to successfully nest in bluebird boxes. Doing so will increase the house sparrow population and further reduce the number of the bluebirds.
After any nesting effort has ended, either due to nest failure or successful fledging of the young, the nest should be removed from the box. If a bluebird nest was successful, re-nesting in the same box will be encouraged if the first nest is removed. This should be done when all chicks have left the nest.


Whenever you monitor a box you should determine what species is using it by examining the nesting material and eggs. You should record the date, and the number of eggs or young that you have observed. Knowing when the eggs where laid will help you determine if they are infertile, or when they should hatch and when the young would be expected to leave the nest. In the case of bluebirds, the eggs are laid one each day until the entire clutch is complete. Incubation will then begin and will last approximately 13-14 days. After hatching the chicks will remain in the nest for 17-18 days. Your monitoring should be limited to viewing from a distance after the 13th day or the chicks might fly from the box prematurely.


Nest monitoring should only be done during calm, mild, and dry weather conditions to reduce the chance of chilling the chicks or eggs. Open the nest box being careful not to allow the eggs to fall out or chicks to jump out. Songbirds have a very poor sense of smell and will not abandon the nest due to your handling the nest, eggs, or chicks. If chicks are in the nest, look under the nest for signs of blowfly larvae. The chicks themselves should be examined for small scars, particularly under the wings which indicates blowfly parasitism. Sometimes you may observe the larvae attached to the chick. These are easily removed by hand. Complete the monitoring as quickly as possible to minimize disturbance. When handling the chicks or removing them from the nest they should be placed in something that will protect them from the sun or wind while preventing their escape. Avoid disposing used nest material near the nest site or predators may be attracted to the site. Always be certain to close the box door securely before leaving. Record what you observed.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Bluebird Update . .

They've hatched!  I know because I opened the box to look inside, when I was sure both parents were gone.  I think it happened Sunday, April 17 (my grandson's third birthday :-).   For two weeks, Sir Bluebird has been ever watchful of his home, perching at various places around the yard while Madam sits on the eggs.  She peeks out of the house occasionally, leaving only for short periods---to take a break?  Find food?  Go potty?  All of the above?  She never stays gone long.   Yesterday, Sir began entering the house for the first time---briefly and often, leading me to suspect he had new mouths to feed.

Too bad photography is not in my skillset.  This is the best I could do with Sir on his most frequent perch, the dying dogwood near the nest.

According to the North American Bluebird Society it is okay to peek in the nest while they are still young, so I did.  I waited until Madam flew out and away, and Sir was nowhere to be seen.  Bingo! A lumpy ball of gray fluff in the deep of the nest, with one wobbly wide open mouth emerging from the fluff---BIG mouth, bright yellow rim of beak and inside lining.  Camera couldn't see inside, but I could. And such a beautiful nest.  Notice the green moss from the yard.

Now counting days to make sure I get to see them fledge.  NABS says the eggs incubate for 13-14 days, and once hatched, the nestlings stay in the nest 17-18 days.  By my calculations, that makes fledge day fall on May 4 or 5.  I will begin my all-morning watches on May 1st, to be sure.  The other three fledges  I've observed since beginning this blog (brown headed nuthatches and house wrens) have all happened between 10:00 and 11:00 a.m.  Clearing my calendar now, dear reader. dkm

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Low-tech High-interest Observations

Great tongue-in-cheek Shouts and Murmurs piece in the Mar 28 issue of New Yorker magazine on the art of spending time outdoors.  My sentiments exactly.  dkm

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Best Spectator Sport EVER

Uh-oh.  The housewrens are back, heard this morning for the first time this spring.  So---I take up my daily watch on behalf of the bluebird house.  I used to be a great fan of housewrens---for their bubbly song that accompanied every backyard day from April through October, and for their conspicuous nesting habits, which are easy to follow for an amateur birder.  They were one of the first species I paid close attention to when I began this blog.  Two springs ago I followed a housewren family in a daily nestwatch from the building of the nest to the fledging of the six young.  Thrilling it was to observe their maiden flights.  I had calculated, via some research, the exact day and hour of the first fledge, and sure enough, between 10 and 11 a.m. on their big day, as I had predicted, out they flew. My friend Barb and I had pulled up comfortable chaises and made a morning of it, each with a good book and a pair of binoculars  (see blogpost of July 22, 2009 titled The Thrill of the Fledge).

BUT---that was before the family bluebird came to this place.  Now my loyalties are divided. Twice the male housewren has run off the male bluebird, who had begun staking out the copper-roofed house.  And last year, even though the bluebirds got a head start before the return of the housewren, their nestlings never made it to fledge day.  We heard one day of tiny cheeping, then BAM! they were gone, way too early for them to have fledged without notice.

I can't really blame their disappearance on the housewrens (it was more likely a hawk, or a snake, or a cat), nonetheless I'm watching carefully.  Today marks Day 1 of Project Bluebird Protection.  Madam Bluebird is definitely tending eggs under the copper roof.  She peeks out often, for only a few seconds, then ducks back inside. Occasionally she leaves the house, but only for a minute or two, to bask in the sun on a nearby bare dogwood branch (dying tree).

Her beautiful blue-backed mate with proud orange chest is never far away.  I see him keeping watch, flying from perch to perch around the yard.  dkm

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Bluebirds in the House

It's the height of spring in Atlanta.  Every day is flooded with extraordinary beauty about which to write.   From the early Yoshino cherry blossoms falling like snow on every warm breeze, through the daffodils and grape hyacinths, the magniflora camellias, the yellow carolina jasmine and the intoxicating starburst blooms of the evergreen clematis, to the extravagant bursting forth of the pink and white azaleas and flowering dogwoods the city over.  It's an intimidating state of affairs for an amateur nature writer.

That's not even to mention the ubiquitous mating behavior of every species of returning bird.  And the birdsong, my god, the birdsong.  The most joyful of all, for me, is that bluebirds are nesting again in the copper-roofed house.  I've taken up sentinel duty to prevent the tiny rapacious house wrens from chasing them off this year, as they have done the past two years. The wrens have not yet returned, but when they do, I'm ready for them.

The trouble with trying to capture this flood of spectacular beauty in print, aside from keeping me from writing for three weeks, is that it tends to make it sound ordinary.  There is positively nothing ordinary about spring in Atlanta.  The irony is that I'm more driven to write about the slow and the common.  An everyday kind of slow observation has the effect,  for me, of turning the ordinary into the extraordinary---like giving the voiceless a voice.  I'll just have to trust that the spring burst of Atlanta can speak for itself.

In the meantime, here's a shot of madam bluebird, speaking for herself in the azalea thicket.  Click once on the photo to see her and the azaleas more closely.  dkm