Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Birds and the Bees

Pukeko G gets the honors for guessing first what caused my chickadees to abandon house and home. It was a buzzing bumblebee nest deep inside the chickadee nest.  The answer was slowly revealed, and got more surprising by the day as I watched, read, and learned. I originally thought Madame Chickadee had already laid her eggs, but when she abandoned the nest, I assumed she had gone somewhere else to lay them. I read online that chickadees often build several nests as back-up, and it is not unusual for them to move if they have to. So I sent them my best wishes for finding a good place in time for the coming of the eggs, happy in the hope that Nest B, wherever it was, would suit them better.

I did notice a fat bumblebee flying around abandoned Nest A when I eventually opened the house, and even took note of how fearless it was. It flew right to the nest and crawled on the mossy top while I was still peeking, but I thought only that the bee was curious. I didn't know enough then to imagine it was nesting in there.
Notice the blurry hovering bee at the door.
How could I not guess she was going to her nest?  But I didn't.

One article said to remove abandoned bird nests to encourage rebuilding, so after enough days to ensure the chickadees were permanently gone, I talked Moe into helping me with the task.  I don't know what I was afraid of, but I didn't want to do it alone.

He slipped it out of the box on a kitchen spatula. Imagine our surprise when the nest itself began to buzz. Not a soft buzz that could be chalked up to imagination. No. This was a furious insistent buzz that wouldn't quit. Moe laid the nest in the dry bed of a nearby birdbath, and we stood still to listen and wonder. Not only was it buzzing. It was vibrating. I whipped out my phone and began taking a video. One mossy depression in particular was shaking, and as my camera and I watched, out of that spot wiggled a huge fuzzy bumblebee.  It hovered over the hole for a moment with a piece of green moss hanging from its leg. It shook it off, then zoomed over my shoulder and away. I could not have been more surprised, but was thrilled to get it on video, already thinking what a great blog post it would make.



Still, I didn't get that the bee had a nest in there. I just thought it had gotten stuck, and I was its great liberator. But alas, after only one viewing, I deleted the video immediately.  Now I regret the hasty decision, but at the time, my background commentary so embarrassed me, I knew I would never post it. Let's just say it did not represent me well :-).  In the surprise of the moment I lost all pretense of acting like an adult. It's quite shocking to hear oneself in the act of being oneself.

But I digress. We left the box-shaped nest in the birdbath, thinking that was the end of the story. But two days later I heard it buzzing again.  That's when I finally realized there was a bumblebee nest inside and it was likely what had frightened off the chickadees. So I wrote that last blog post, asking for guesses, though it's clear to me now that most people, like Moe and Pukeko G, could figure it out right away. Two more days passed and the buzzing stopped.  A couple of pokes with a stick helped me decide the hot sun had sent the queen bumblebee packing.

Meantime, I read Patricia Lichen's coincidental and informative blog post about the nesting habits of a queen bumblebee, and it made me curious to see if there was such a colony inside our nest, now abandoned by everyone.  So yesterday I raked it apart with a couple of sticks and sure enough, found the remains of a hard waxy bumblebee colony along with another surprise that I didn't notice at all until I looked at the photos in my camera.

Remains of bumblebee colony that fell out of mossy nest when I raked it open.
Bumblebee colony turned over.


But look!  What's that in the lower right hand corner of the photo?
Just one lonely chickadee egg! 

To give you an idea of size.
See how precious and tiny.

Then came the biggest surprise of all.  The nest had fallen apart into two layers—top and bottom.  The bumblebee colony was in the bottom layer.  I had combed through both sections with my sticks, so I was pretty sure there was only one egg.  But just in case, I gently raked through the top layer one more time. And look what I found, carefully hidden under the downy cover.



So special and fragile. So well protected. They were probably doomed from the moment that queen bumblebee began her magnum opus, the great work of her life, but how heavy my heart to discover it now. Are the parents grieving? Will they mate again?  Have they begun a new nest? Oh, the beauty and brutality of the natural world. dkm

24 comments:

Pukeko G said...

It looks like the Beeblebum had a few offspring so the nest was not totally wasted .. tis a shame about the eggs .. they are probably too old now to hatch yourself? (by use of an incubator .. not by you sitting on them in case your were wondering!) Thankyou for the enlightenment. :)<

Jane Robertson said...

What a wonderful story. Sad for the chickadees, but 'what a find' the bumble bees must have thought!! Such a pity they couldn't cohabit in their two storied house.

I'm sure the chickadees will have found another cosy spot and begun again.

I looked at the final photo and thought it's a little koha - a little gift just for you.

bibi said...

Your blog is such a fun combination of fact and beautiful prose. I am fascinated by your discoveries. Thank you for the hours of enjoyment you have brought me.

dkm said...

LOL Pukeko! Wouldn't y'all be surprised if my next post showed me sitting on the birdbath . . .

And thank you, Bibi--same is true for me of your blog!

Yes Jane, I wish too the chickadees could have considered it an urban sort of apartment dwelling :-) I don't think bumblebees sting or would have otherwise harmed the birds, but it would be hard to put a baby to sleep with all that noise pollution. Madame Chickadee must have felt like I once did about my neighbors lawnmower at naptime, back in the days of young mothering.

Patricia Lichen said...

Wow! Fascinating! But sad for both bumbles and chickadees. Here's hoping both found new nests and produced new progeny!

Thanks for the photos--I've never seen the honeypots, only read about them. I'll have to link to this in a coming post!

dkm said...

Re: Patricia's comment about the bumblebees. Agreed! It hasn't been lost on me that far from being the bee's liberator, my intervention actually evicted her. If I had left well enough alone, at least one of the nests could have finished its work. It was an innocent error, but it begs the question: If I had left the bumblebee nest, would it have discouraged future bird nests? And had there been the opportunity to choose, which is preferable?

Ellen said...

How very interesting! I appreciate your quest for an answer!

dkm said...

Only in retirement would I ever have the time. But it is a pleasure I didn't know to anticipate!

Niki said...

Couldn't help but laugh about the video. I would have loved to have heard you. :) I do hope some Feathers make a new nest.

I thought my pigeons had gone as found a broken egg on the shed floor. But she came back and is now sitting. I daren't climb the ladder to have a peek as fear I might cause more eggs to fall.

Niki said...

Beeblebum!! hehehe Silly man!

dkm said...

Niki, does this mean you-know-who has allowed the pigeons to stay? :-)

Murr Brewster said...

I only just learned about the habit of chickadees of laying a soft blanket over their eggs in Julie Zickefoose's wonderful new book, The Bluebird Effect. I'll direct you to this. It's just a terrific book.

dkm said...

Thanks for the book rec, Murr. Tons of people have recommended Julie Zickefoose's blog to me. I just became a follower. Looks wonderful. And the book looks right down my alley!

Rosemary Lombard said...

What an informative and well-told story! Thank you. And may I also recommend Julie's Letters from Eden.

dkm said...

So now I've ordered both books from my local indie bookstore. Can't wait to read them. Hoping for details about bird behavior that field guides don't have but I always crave. Thanks, rosemary and murr. I was supposed to be on a book buying moratorium for awhile!

Julie Zickefoose said...

Aw now look at this. Here are Murr and Rosemary. In a nice bit of symmetry, Rosemary told Murr she should read my blog, and then told me I should read Murr's blog, and years later and zillions of fabulous blogposts past, Murr will be visiting my house for the second time next week!! Whee!
I read your excellent post of discovery--you've learned so much about chickadees! The blanket of fur and plant down the female pulls over her eggs when she's away fooled me the first year I tended my boxes too. I'd visit one day: no eggs. Next day: five!! How did she do it? She made a blanket for them, covered them and I didn't know they were there the whole time.
Excellent photos of the queen bumblebee nest. Yep, that'll run the birds out, all right. What a bummer! But what you've learned and the skill with which you've told the story says that all is not lost. And now you'll know to evict wasps and bees before they can ruin a good nest. Hint: Big stout stick to smash them. Sounds mean, but I'm a card-carrying "speciesist,"--what a dopey word-- and I prefer chickadees to bees and wasps.
I'm so glad to find you here.

dkm said...

Julie! I am deeply honored by your comment! And do love coincidental cross references---probably not so surprising when you consider our self-selected interests---still---how much fun it is to make connections such as these--- via Patricia Lichen's blog for me.

I'm glad to hear your take on the question of bee vs bird. Moe will feel vindicated by the big stick plan. We had a respectful row a couple of years ago when he routed out a gorgeous hornet's nest I was blogging about :-)

Still, don't we need bumblebees for pollination, and are they not in decline?

Julie Zickefoose said...

: ) One can certainly argue for the bee, but I am not putting up houses for bees. Mission creep is a danger in maintaining bird houses. For the record, I evict wasps, bees, and house sparrows, and I don't just pat them on the bottom and send them on their way, either. Paper wasps will return year after year to render your nice box uninhabitable, as will house sparrows.
I had someone tell me I was cruel and "speciesist" to discriminate against insects and house sparrows that invade my bird boxes. I asked him if he maintains bird boxes, and he does not. Well, then, I said, you're in no position to tell me what species I let occupy my boxes. I spend good money on materials and lots of time and effort on making sure my birds fledge healthy. I'm not putting up boxes for hymenoptera and house sparrows. I'm putting them up for bluebirds, chickadees, titmice and tree swallows, and as such I get to pick who nests in them and who doesn't. It's an artificial construct, to be sure, and I am Lord of the Nest Boxes! : D

On my blog, see "Saving Baby Birds" for an idea of how serious I am about making sure they survive. I've been feeding 27 bluebirds through a cold spell this year. I think I've earned the right to kill a bumblebee now and then. ; )

http://juliezickefoose.blogspot.com/2011/05/saving-baby-birds.html

dkm said...

Lol---what a fabulous response--relieves my worries about having dried up my queen bee---especially, "I don't put up houses for bees." :-)

Thanks for the added info re: baby birds and how to protect the house from predators (comment on last post). You are so right that I don't want to find the nest ravaged by raccoons, which we have no shortage of around here. Many thanks!

lisazinn said...

What a fun story! I was completely surprised that you found the eggs. I am sure your chickadee found another suitable location for another clutch. As to the bee vs. bird debate. I would generally support any bee removal effort to ensure the birds have a suitable home. However, I think I would make an exception for bumblebees. Given that their population is in free fall all over the world, playing host to them in your backyard box would seem appropriate. It is too bad you didn't know they were cause for you chickadee retreat. Keep us posted on what happens next in your box!

dkm said...

Thx for that additional perspective, Lisa! In general , I tend to practice the art of observation only, for the purpose of wondering and learning. Th trouble with that is the more you learn the more you want to intervene. The thing I will do is try to make this house a little less of an invitation to predators. In the past it has hosted brown headed nuthatches, house wrens, and bluebirds, and I hope for more bluebirds. What's the conventional wisdom on house wrens? I love their bubbly little song and am watching another nest of wrens at this moment. Please don't say they are bad guys, like English house sparrows!

dkm said...

P.S. To my knowledge we don't have the dreaded house sparrow around here. At least I've never seen one in this yard.

Mike B. said...

Great post! We used to have chickadees nest in our yard every year but they stopped coming a couple of years ago. I looked inside- no bees. Still a mystery.

Generic Cialis said...

How did you build that beautiful nest! serious you made a great job with this stuff!