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Baby Bluebirds, Chickadee Eggs, Trashy Tree Swallows

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Still checking bluebird boxes on May 6. It was a big day, enough to make three posts out of it! And I love bringing you along. This stuff is just so cool, I have to share.

The Three Graces leaf out. I have been photographing them every time I pass. It's awesome to see the changes. 

Hendershot has four nice four-day-old bluebirds. I fool them into gaping by giving a little whistle. Easier to count them when they pop their heads up, as you shall see...

Driveway Mid has four two-day-old bluebirds. The hen seems to have removed a fifth, infertile egg. 
I have her down as having laid five, but poking down into the pile o' meat reveals nothing. Yes, they're hard to count. You kind of have to figure out what you're seeing each time you look into a box. You can't count heads, because you can't always see them. In this case, the chick at 6 o'clock in the lineup has its head under the chick at 9 o'clock, and the 12 o'clock chick has its wing over on the 1 o'clock chick and its head way over to 4 o'clock, and the 1 o'clock chick has its head tucked down. This makes me chuckle. But trust me, there are four chicks here in this sweet Celtic knot.

Here are some six-day-old bluebirds from my Old Studio box in our yard. They're smaller than the Warren #4 babies, though they're the same age. It's all about food. They're fine--the Warren babes are just abnormally fat and well-fed, being only three in number. You should see babies in a box where only one or two of the clutch hatches. Monsters!

There are some fun surprises in today's box check. Meadow Slot on our farm has E-Nor-Mous ten-day old bluebirds, five of them! Man, she got started early! Counting back, these hatched April 26, so she started incubating her clutch on April 12, meaning she started laying April 9. Whoo-ee. And I'm not feeding bluebirds this spring, either, so that tells me that Bill's mowing the meadow three times last season has improved the feeding grounds for our bluebirds. Or maybe she's just hot to trot. She'll have these fledged and be thinking about starting another nest while most are still feeding young in the box. The minimum turn around time for bluebirds from fledging a batch to starting the next clutch of eggs is about two weeks.

That's not very long. This amazing ebb and flow, and all the change and surprise in my bird boxes is is why I get so frustrated when I'm traveling and don't get around to check them at least once a week. All this wonderful stuff happens and I'm missing it. After running boxes since 1982, I still hate to miss a single little thing.

Surprises abound today. I had something start a moss and bark fiber nest in the meadow PVC box, and I thought it juuust might be a white-breasted nuthatch, since we keep seeing nuthatches perched out in the open on the snags we put up in the meadow. I was literally holding my breath. And then one day I came and found the nest all torn up, and tree swallows holding the territory. I was really disappointed, because nuthatch is my Holy Grail of baby birds I want to paint. I haven't had a nuthatch in a bluebird box since about 1984, in Connecticut, and it was on an old box that my landlord had nailed to a tree (bad, bad thing). And the babies were taken by a coon just before they fledged. Part of me has never gotten over that. And this is why you never, ever nail a nest box to a tree. 

So I was waiting with bated breath to see what would happen to this torn-up mossy nest--to see who built it. And it looked like the swallows had queered everything. 
Not so. 

For today, May 6, a Carolina chickadee bursts out of the box as I come up to it, and I find six precious little Carolina chickadee eggs in there! I can only guess that she had them hidden under the moss and they escaped the tree swallow's depredation. And she has prevailed! The tree swallows have moved to a wooden box nearby. Hooray!

It's a great year for chickadees on our place. Here's another nest in the garden box--an uncharacteristically late laying. This moss nest appeared overnight, and I think she's still laying as of May 6. We now have four active CACH nests with eggs, and another in the Oilwell box built, with no eggs. Not sure what's going on there. This is what makes checking such fun! This is the latest CACH egg laying I've ever had. Something must have happened to their first attempt. I find that chickadees are one-brood wonders, and they seem not to attempt nesting if it gets too late. It's one brood or nothing for them, at least in southern Ohio.

I am absolutely knocked over by the perfume coming in the windows from my heirloom lilacs. This is Aunt Lolly the Younger, who is heir apparent to the throne, as Aunt Lolly the Elder is slowly croaking in her shaded north exposure. I have to lop off one enormous trunk after another.  Hooray for The Younger! But I'm not counting The Elder out, no way. These are tough, tough plants. They really should be called tree lilacs--the biggest darn lilac I've ever seen.

 Up close. Swoon!

Bill for scale. Look at the size of those clusters! I planted this one about six years ago. It's headed for the top of the deck. I deliberately planted it where I could stand on the raised deck and someday swoosh my face in the blossoms. It will get that tall. I think I've found The Perfect Spot for it, don't you?

 Speaking of tall, I had to move Hibiscus "The Path" to the front porch. She was bumping her head on the ceiling of the greenhouse, and it's too hot in there now for anything but peppers and tomatoes. They love heat. My fuchsias, hibiscus and jasmines, not so much. Out they go!

One last surprise in the Meadow Wood box. Here's what tree swallows do when they can't find any nice white feathers for their nests. When they can't find any feathers at all. They use beech leaves, tinfoil, and cellophane. Awww. Poor little things. On a whim, I tore some feather-like strips from my bluebird notebook and let them fly on the breeze. The tree swallow who built this nest watched intently, its flat little head pivoting, as they fluttered by him. I'm betting they end up in his nest. Don't worry. I'm going out to buy them some goose feathers this afternoon.

Thus ends the box check. But it's never over, not until August. So there will be more babies to come!


Oh, this post left a big old grin on my face! And how beautiful the CACH nests are! The moss really adds the perfect touch. What little decorators they are!

I liked it. Liked reading it. Thank you for writing it.

Posted by Diane Porter May 19, 2015 at 4:47 AM

Oh, the sweetness of a rural life, rekindles that old longing for me. Maybe next time.,.

Posted by Gail Spratley May 19, 2015 at 7:46 AM

I consider you my mentor in bluebird knowledge. I too am monitoring bluebirds again this year at
Red Rock Lakes NWR. I got here about 10 days ago and my first job was to run the bluebird survey on our 51 boxes and make any needed repairs.

The following day, I was driving past box 14E and stopped to photograph a war between mountain bluebirds and tree swallows. That will be the subject of my Wednesday blog. I also posted the pictures in my Flickr account. Someone responded that the tree swallows were in decline while none of the bluebird species were. Here is the article he cited.

It even shows a bluebird pulling a tree swallow out of the nest box. And, when I cleaned out the boxes at the end of the breeding season, I found a dessicated tree swallow UNDER the nest.

I love being part of the net and learning so much from other people.

My birds take 13 days to hatch their eggs so I expect not to see babies until a week from this Thursday.

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