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Thursday, February 2, 2012

The wee hours of January 27 saw a ferocious windstorm with pelting rain. The creeks were running so high at dawn I thought Bill wouldn't get through Whipple to work. Duck Creek ran like angry chocolate milk, carrying our good bottomland soil out to the Ohio. I checked Garret's snag at 7 AM as it was beginning to lighten outside. A-OK. Bill checked it at 8. A-OK. I walked out at 9 AM, intending to investigate as to whether I could pound a post in beside it to which I could lash the rotting snag for support, and found this:

The snag had, not surprisingly, broken off right at Garret's cavity entrance. 

I'd seen Garrett take so much punky wood out of that cavity, I knew the walls had to be perilously thin. Add days of soaking rain and wind that made the whole snag sway side to side, and it was only a matter of time before it broke in two. Little Garrett was a bit too enthusiastic about his home remodeling project. He must've gotten a good fat home equity loan.

What used to be his ceiling--the cavity entrance at upper left.

And here's where he was sleeping. I figured it had to be pretty damp in there. Not to mention moldy (that's the white stuff).

Nobody had seen Garrett since first light. He wasn't in the cavity, nor was he on any of his usual perches. I combed Liam's huge weeping willow. Bingo.

He looked very disheveled. This is the first time I'd seen him preen. 
I knew he hadn't been hurt in the cavity collapse, or he couldn't have made it up into the tree. 

When he was done preening, he went to the living birch next to his old snag and started to try to excavate a cavity. He pecked for about 15 minutes in the hard, living wood and then gave up.

The next time I saw him, he was on the roost box I'd put up for him on the second day he spent with us!

You can imagine my excitement!

Phoebe had spotted him on it a few days before, and there was evidence that he'd already been working on the entry hole, which is a bit tight for him. But on this dark, cold, drizzly day, January 27, he really set to. He never stopped to eat that I saw--just pecked and pecked at the hole. You can see how he's got it bumped out on the right edge.

It's not beautiful by any means, and I have it turned upside down. It's actually a bluebird nest box that's supposed to discourage sparrows, and the hole's supposed to be pointing toward the ground. One of the many failed designs--it turns out to be exactly what house sparrows love--an entrance on the underside; a large nesting chamber, and darkness.  Baby bluebirds also tend to fall out of the hole when it's properly mounted. Like many innovative bird boxes, it's just a big Duh all around, but it looks mighty good to Garrett and me. 

He worked on it most of the afternoon, taking breaks to kick redbelly butt.

The other woodpeckers in the yard had a good day because Garrett was so preoccupied.

This boy actually got away with taking some Zick Dough, something Garrett actively discourages.

Almost the best part, besides having anticipated Garrett's need for a nice roost box? 

You can watch him working on it from the downstairs bathroom!

Could he get it done by nightfall?


I sure hope that nestbox is on tight, it looks like it could slip down out of the bungees easily.

Garrett will probably never leave now, he's got you guys trained so well to give him whatever he needs! ;)

I am so glad to read someone else works to keep birds safe and happy. We have mockingbirds and doves that nest in our yard. I know, not as exciting as Garrett! When the babies are born it is weeks of intense watching. I panic they'll get hurt. I make sure momma bird is feeding everyone equally. I count heads constantly as they start to get out of the nest and bee-bop around our yard. I make sure they're back in the nest at night and all tucked in. It's like a second full-time job! We get teased for caring so much about little birds, but we wouldn't do it any differently!

So, obviously, I'm loving the Garrett stories and the pictures are fantastic. Just love his poofy little red head.

Wow! I hope you're getting some HD video too for the documentary of all this drama.

Poor Garrett. All that work for nothing. But... I'm glad he decided to go for the better option now ;-)
So... you'll be spending lots of time in the bathroom now?

@Julie: Yes, it does look precarious. But what you can't see is that the box is resting on a branch which keeps it from sliding down. It has withstood a couple of windstorms with gusts up to 60!

@TJ: Tell me more. Mockingbird babies come back to the nest after fledging? For one night or more than one night? I was aware that phoebes would do that but unaware that an open-cup nester like a mockingbird would return to the nest after fledging.

@Robert: Not yet in the HD vid world. Gonna have to find some blog sugardaddies to get into that stuff, for all the external hard drives and equipment. Blog pay scale is not quite up to the investment. ; )

@Carolina: Luckily, the best angle is from the studio!

I am reading these with one eye closed--that way I can forestall the possible ending. Don't know if that works, but I will try.

I just love reading about the adventures of Garrett! Thanks so much for sharing!

Unbelievable! If we tried to help a bird...we would step out the door and it would not stop flying till it was two states away! Good work.

I don't know if we are going to let you write about anything except Garrett. This has all the drama of a TV show - fights, being lost, homeless. What will happen next?

Awsome,awsome,awsome photos!!!

Regarding the Mockingbird babies-the nest was in a Honeysuckle bush right outside my office window about 5'8" high. The bush grows up the side of our lanai, so I could see them through the screen if I went outside- two views of the nest! Mama bird would let us get right up to them, just would give us the stink eye. Four babies, one was hopping out first after week one. Got a whole 2 day start (he was the smartest?) hopping around in the bush, then on the ground before the other 3 even left the nest. It was a whole week of yard and fruit tree hopping then returning the nest each night. As they got bigger, two would be in it, two stood either on the edge or on the branch that held the nest. Also, mom and dad bird fed them no matter where they were in the yard for weeks. I found them quickly by waiting for their "I'm hungry" calls, which I knew quite well at that point. We still saw her feeding them at the one month old point, even though they flew all over. We have red shouldered hawks that the parent birds kept out of the yard this whole time (actually kept them out all summer) so they constantly flew the perimeter, which made it easy to keep track of the action. Oddly, they didn't mind or bother our two dogs, even when the babies hopped on the ground when they would be out. I expected they'd get dive-bombed or scolded, but never happened. We really enjoyed them even though they are quite loud late into the evening (I'd get serenaded by one during the 11pm news-so loud I couldn't hear the TV and would have to leave the lanai) when trying to find some love...

TJ, thank you! Careful observers like you rock ornithologists' world, because this is the kind of stuff you have to be around to see. I find this absolutely fascinating, indicating that the babies had a concept of where their nest was and how to get back to it from a very young age. Very, very cool. Also quite fascinated by the birds' being unperturbed by the dogs as a threat to the young birds. Clearly, the birds "know" your dogs. I can't imagine that they would have ignored just any dog. I have seen much the same reaction in my hand-raised orphaned birds, who know Chet is "safe" but panic when they see a strange dog. All of this indicative of superior intelligence in mockingbirds, something for which there's already some "hard" evidence. (A recent study showed that they were able to recognize, remember and discriminate against individual researchers who'd messed with their nestlings). Well, no duh!
Thanks again for your detailed observations. I'm going to check the Birds of North America account to see if leaving and returning to the nest is a "known" behavior in mockers. I use air quotes because you know it but ornithologists may not!
Here's the only remotely pertinent thing I found--and no mention of returning to the nest. Authors
Authors: Derrickson, K. C., and R. Breitwisch

The Birds of North America Northern Mockingbird species Account:

Fledgling Stage
Most nestlings depart the nest (usually in early morning) on the 12th day after hatching (Laskey 1962, Adkisson 1966, Oniki and Merritt unpubl.), although they may leave as early as the 10th day (especially if disturbed) and as late as the 15th day. Young frequently run immediately after leaving the nest, and climb into shrubs a day or two later (Zaias and Breitwisch 1989, KCD). In n. Florida it is common to see recently fledged chicks jumping, walking, and running on the ground, but they are usually fed in dense shrubs (GAL). On one occasion a fledgling was observed in the nest of a different, neighboring adult pair that had a brood of three nestlings of their own (GAL, JUM)

TJ, I'd suggest close documentation of the next brood, with dates on everything--day of hatch, --age at first leaving the nest; number of days they returned to the nest for the night, that kind of thing. You could definitely add to our knowledge of this species!

I have really enjoyed the posts about Garrett the red headed woodpecker too! I had a few questions as I have been reading your great posts about the transition to roosting box for garrett. While the roosting box seems like a great alternative to us humans, I find myself wondering how Garrett will roost and rest in the smooth straight sides of the box. When we see the interior of the broken Birch it is rough and kind of rounded. Such a more cozy natural space may be easier to keep warm, than the big area of the box. Do birds bring material into such a box to make it more snug, and to give themselves a better foothold for resting?
Nesting birds will of course add twigs etc to make a better fit , but do they do it for roosting as well?
Maybe Garrett rejected the box when it was initially placed because it was too big, drafty and smooth sided?
What do you think?

Thanks for that info! I am in Florida- so that info explains the Honeysuckle bush and why they like the fruit trees so much as they're more like bushes than trees at the height mine are. I thought the bush was brilliant for a nest as it's too delicate for predators to climb and as it's against our roofed lanai, the overhang covers the bush, so they basically don't get rained on, either. Plus, unlike poor Garrett's home, being supported on both sides means no issues with wind. I will keep a close eye out for nests and keep track of what happens next time. I wish you were here now, as it's early morning, all my doors are open and the birds are singing like crazy. I'm sure you could identify what kinds they are - we're clueless most of the time, but love to listen. I also learned the hard way that the larger birds down here love dog food. Had a back yard filled with White Ibis one morning helping themselves to a snack from the bowl on our porch. I'm from Westerville, OH (one of my OH friends turned me onto your blog due when you had the story of Chet rolling in the tire track puddles), moved to Florida and I have been fascinated with all of the birds down here. So beautiful and different from what I grew up with in Ohio. Reading your entries makes me want to further my knowledge so I can share what I see!

TJ I wish I were in Florida now, too! Got a day of rain and 40's ahead, blaaa. I'd love to see you keep a careful journal, with dates and notes, of this nesting phenomenon in your mockingbird. Let's hope the next brood is just as adventuresome.

Ohio-guy, I filled the box with hamster litter but, being a woodpecker, Garrett took it all out. That's woodpeckers for ya! They like a bare clean bottom on their boxes, and do not bring any material in--they are hard-wired to remove it! Yes, it may be drafty, but it was a whole lot drier than the birch stub which was saturated by the time it fell. He seemed to enjoy the box once he accepted it, and spent more than three times the amount of time inside it than he ever did in the birch stub during the day. It's hard to say why birds do anything, of course; all we can do is observe what they do and speculate.

Recently there was a note about a bat on Chet's FB page. And he said to go to your blog for more bat info, but I don't see anything recent about bats. Is there another place to look? Thanks.

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