Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Bluebird Nestwatch, Day 63

When you watch a nest every day, you don't see so many changes from one day to the next, but across days. The baby blues are clearly growing bigger and louder and hungrier, and the parents enter the house with their floppy morsels at increasingly shorter intervals, but otherwise, there hasn't been much new to report. If I sit too close they don't come at all, so I stay back about ten yards.

A few days ago, both parents began entering only halfway through the doorway, leaving tipped up tail and rump to protrude outside as they stuff their offerings into the throats of their offspring. Today, there's a bigger slight change.  Now, both parents stay fully outside the doorway when they arrive, ducking only head and beak through the hole to make their deliveries. Those growing screaming nestlings must be standing tall, reaching and craning their necks long.

 I wonder if either Mr. or Mrs. Blue feel intimidated or exhausted by the loud crying. Ay yi yi, like quarreling selfish siblings, these nestlings are. Their devoted parents are flying ragged trying to keep up with the demand.

Waiting and silent

All hell breaks loose inside

Alright, alright, be patient, already! 
There's more where this came from. 
Your mother is right behind me. 
You are NOT going to go hungry.  

This is the twelfth day since estimated hatching, so it's soon time, given the reported 15-21 days from hatch to fledge. But alas, I'll miss it, as I leave for Boston trip tomorrow. Will try to entice Moe or Sarah or Nick or Mak into a few days of nest watching, so as to be able to record the day and count the fledglings. If lucky, the fledge will be this weekend, while the kids are out of school. They'll know when it's time by the poking out of heads and shoulders that goes on for long minutes before the fluffy speckled newbies get up nerve to make the leap. I hope my grandchildren can witness the breathless and magical moments of the fledge---and tell me about it. dkm

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Bluebird Nestwatch, Day 56

Proof positive of live bluebird nestlings this morning. The first day I can hear the cries of their little bluenesses. Fifty-six days since first mating ritual was noticed. Seventeen days since estimated laying of the eggs.  Five silent but busy days since estimated hatch. Today's observed pattern: Mr. & Ms. Blue overlap each other with their feeding visits to the nest. Mama makes a delivery to the house, invoking a multitude of tiny chirps, the first I've heard this watch. The new racket of nestling chirps goes on while she's in there, then quiets as soon as she flies off in search of more groceries. Meantime, he has arrived and waits on a cherry twig with a dangling morsel in his beak. He might smash it a few times against the branch he sits on.  When she vacates, he enters, and the little racket starts up again.  He stays only long enough to stuff the morsel down somebody's throat then offs again for another round. Neither parent stays at the door long enough to get a good photo, so I tried a video---to record the tiny racket that comes with each new delivery. Voila!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Bluebird Nestwatch, Day 51

  I think, I hope, it's possible…they've hatched. Circumstantial evidence suggests hungry new nestling bluebirds, still too tiny to peep. Not 100% sure, since I can't hear them yet, but there's a lot more entering and leaving of the nest today, by both parents, at closer intervals, like every ten minutes. At least once I saw him enter when she was away, with a morsel that he prepared by smashing it on a bare branch before taking it in. Feeding babies?

But, boo-hoo, unless I've calculated wrong, this means I'll miss the fledge, as I'm scheduled to be out of town from April 27 to May 10th. Guidebooks offer different timetables, but the range for time from hatch to fledge is generally 15-21 days. If today is hatching day, then fledge day could be anytime from Apr 28-May 4. Poor timing for a trip.

Worthy trip, though. First to Boston for the New England SCBWI spring conference, then to Lansing, Michigan for one daughter's graduation, followed by a birding expedition at Indiana's Chain O' Lakes State Park.

 If I clean out the nest on return from trip, and if I'm lucky, the bluebirds will start another brood. The other two bluebird nestwatches I've conducted both ended in disappointment. One year I missed the moment of fledge for a doctor's appointment (grrr!). Another year the eggs never hatched (reason unknown), though the parents gave it a valiant effort, tending the eggs for about two weeks beyond normal hatching time before finally abandoning them.

Here's hoping 2016 will be the year. dkm

The eggs that never hatched,  May 2012 

One day after missing  the fledge, May 2011

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Bluebird Nestwatch, Day 47

Notes on 47th day after observing the bluebird mating behavior, and ten days after beginning formal observations of the resulting nest for one hour/day, not always at same time:

Mating behavior observed on Feb. 23rd.
Became aware of nest building in mid-March. 
Estimated egg laying date to be sometime during the last week of March.
Began formal nestwatch on April 2, several days after they showed signs of routine nest tending, described below. 
Pretty sure she's still sitting on eggs in the house, and has been for over ten days.
Can't hear tiny chirps yet. 
Hatch expected any day now, given the two-week incubation time reported for bluebirds. 
He comes to the feeder often and visits the nest in the green house regularly to relieve her.
His visits follow a pattern.
They have an impressive tag team operation going. 
No matter the hour of observation, I see pretty much the same routine:
All will be quiet when I arrive.
Then, at least once during my hour, sometimes twice, they follow this pattern:

1. Sooner or later he arrives on a nearby perch and watches for a few minutes. No singing. Just watching. He may move around between 5 or 6 favorite watch posts (different branches, one of three tall iron tulip sculptures, the basketball goal, the hummingbird hanger, or the top frame of the backyard swing).
2. Eventually he drops to the ground, pulls out a worm, and enters the house with it, if he doesn't already have one dangling from his beak when he arrives. 
3. He stays inside for all of 2 or 3 seconds, then emerges to one of his perches. Is his purpose to feed her? Wake her? Notify her of his arrival? All of the above?
4. In less than a minute after his short visit, she emerges and flies off. 
5. He hangs around while she's gone, moving from perch to perch, ever vigilant of the environs, but doesn't enter the house. 
6. She returns after a short away. I've timed her. Never gone more than seven minutes, or less than four.
7. Once she re-enters the house, he flies off and all is quiet again, until his next visit.
8. The latest I've observed this cycle is 7:00p. Then all goes long-time quiet, presumably for the night.  

I never hear him sing, now that the period of courtship is over. Both parents tend the nest in silence. If I weren't intentionally watching for them, I might never have noticed their presence.

Silence, that is, until a squirrel approaches the house from above or below. It doesn't happen often and not for long, because Mr. Bluebird chases them off with much dive-bombing and loud clicking. Whether it happens during one of her brief absences or when she's on the nest, he's there in a flash. Obviously he doesn't stray far, even when she's home.  

They are the model of elegant dependability in their habits, these bluebirds. I should take a lesson. dkm

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Bluebird Nestwatch 2016, Day 40

Bluebirds are in the house, the result of courtship behavior reported in last post. So I begin a formal daily watch of the new green bluebird house on the loblolly pine trunk in the backyard. New last year, that is, but nobody nested in it, presumably due to the squirrel that sat on the roof all the time, twirling and nibbling an acorn in its paws, like it thought Moe Miller installed a well-supported shelf on the tree just for him—or her.

But this year—oh lovely this—the bluebirds, early nesters that they are, beat him to it. Not to be trifled with, Mr. Blue makes a loud clicking sound and dive bombs any squirrel that comes near. Mild mannered bluebirds, come to find out, are as fiercely protective as any species when threatened, but otherwise are more secretive in their nesting habits than the gregarious housewrens of years past.  While Mr. Housewren sings his bubbly heart out from a nearby perch throughout the nesting cycle,  Mr. Blue sings his quiet murmury song only during courtship. Then once he and his mate settle on their home of choice, they get to work building their nest, and he stops singing. Between the bluebirds' quiet ways and my pre-occupation with other activities, I almost forgot about them this year, until I noticed, mid-March, a few silent comings and goings to and from the new house with small pieces of nesting material in their beaks—mostly moss, I think.

By now she is definitely sitting on eggs, which must be nearing hatch date, considering he's been protecting the house for days, quietly hanging around on nearby perches, bringing her sustenance, or scaring off squirrels. She occasionally comes to the doorway for longing looks into the world and flies out for short periods, but mostly I see only him. One of his favorite perches is the basketball backboard.

Notice the fallen cherry blossoms, too.  Gorgeous this year. 
Not exactly sure where in the chronology of the nest they are. I know from past watches, bluebirds require about two weeks from laying date to hatching date---and about two more weeks to fledge date.  What I don't know is how long from courtship to egg day. Since I was lucky enough to witness their polite mating behavior on Feb 23, which I'll call Day 1, I should be able to count backwards from the eventual fledge day to learn the answer to that question. I could find out online, no doubt, but it's ever so much more fun to discover it via my own daily observations.  I'm 39 days late to the party, but I begin the watch today. I'll report back. dkm