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Fat Bluebirds!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

You may be wondering how the orphaned bluebirds, whom we call The Babies or sometimes if they're being particularly pushy, The Stinkies, are doing. Well, they're doing just great, thank you. In this video, made August 16, they are 65 days old. It's been a real trip to see them through the entire postjuvenal molt, to see their first adult basic plumage come in slowly but surely. It started with a red waistcoat, fine strips of soft terra-cotta red feathers coming on on their sides, and has progressed to their backs. Last to molt will be the head and upper breast, followed by flight feathers of the wing. By mid-September they should be looking quite amazingly spiffy sleek. This is Ida.

You'll remember that there were three. Toddy, always the innovator of the group, took off when she was around 52 days old. She just stopped needing mealworms, tapered off her visits, and came alone when she did come in. Then she stopped coming in. My guess is she joined up with another group of bluebirds somewhere on our road. In eastern bluebirds, females are the ones who disperse from their natal territories, so Toddy was doing what she was meant to do. These two, dunno. The lure of the dinner cup is too strong. They are often gone for six or eight hours at a stretch, and once even 24 hours! And when they poop it's often full of pokeberries

 and we see them foraging for insects all over the yard. So they're becoming bluebirds. They just feel compelled to keep their weight up, that's all.

In this video I'm kind of excited to be getting good footage of them eating, and this is the first time I've gotten a good shot of their brand new blue back feathers. So I get bungled up and call Elsa, the bird who remains and pigs out, by Ida's name. Ida is the shyer of the two. She's the one who flew off first. Elsa always stays and eats until she can't fit any more mealworms in her crop. And often flies off carrying one. She's too cute.

You will also notice me admonishing the birds for being so fat. This is not because I am fattist. No, far from it. I tell them they are fat with the kind of admiring tone that one uses on a good stout baby, the kind with deep creases around wrists and ankles, as if someone has put rubber bands around her. I looove a fat baby, be it human or bird. Kind of Polynesian in that respect. A fat bird is a healthy bird, a wealthy bird, a prosperous bird.

Phoebe tries to fill them up. Note how mealworms are kept--see below for details.

They are pretty hard to tell apart, as being in heavy molt changes their appearance day to day. But Elsa has all her primaries, and Ida busted most of hers off in the flight tent somehow. Those are the only feathers that haven't been molted, so I have to look at their wingtips to distinguish them. I noticed today (8/19) that Ida's new primaries are pushing out from beneath the tertials, so she should be getting a lot more lift with less work very soon.

Just this evening, as I'm writing, the Babies figured out to come and perch on the hanging basket hooks just outside the kitchen window and peek inside to stare us down. It is quite disarming to look out your kitchen window and find two bluebirds waving their wings at you. It's terrible, in fact. Harrible. How we put up with them I do not know.

Note on mealworms: I get them, 5,000 at a time, from the excellent and affordable Nature's Way. Here's their website:   Tell Tim Vocke, Proprietor, that Zick sent you. Best worms available, healthiest, cleanest, biggest, fattest. Fat=Good.

I keep the mealworms in UNmedicated chick starter which I get at the feed store. You have to tell them you don't want the stuff that's full of antibiotics, or they may automatically sell you that. For moisture, I give them baby carrots. Lots. Keep them in an open plastic shoebox (no lid). See photo of Phoebe, above, for a visual. Some people refrigerate their mealworms, but if the worms are refrigerated, they stop eating and go dormant, and thus have less nutritional value.

 Keeping them in chick starter and feeding them carrots is called "gut loading." This is a lovely term that means the bluebirds eat what the mealworms eat and thus get better nutrition than if they were kept in plain wheat bran or old-fashioned oats.

It also describes what I do in BLT season.

If you have a good old-fashioned feed store in your town, they should sell you the chick starter in bulk. I usually buy 10 lb. at a time. Don't really want a 50-lb. bag of that stuff hanging around. It's the same stuff I used in my Improved Zick Dough. And that is all I have to say about mealworms for now.


Positively amazing---feeding bluebirds by hand! Fat and CUTE!

Oh what a pretty blue! Such treasures, begging at your window ;)

I still smile thinking of the video of them with open mouths just waiting for the mealworms to jump in! My daughter and I make that face at each other and fall over laughing.
I'm so delighted to see them feeding themselves, looking almost all grown up!

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