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And How Fare the Bluebirds?

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

I've been busy with bird doings, keeping up with what's going on in my nest boxes. The garden box was hoppin' with frequent feedings and lots of shrilling from the four girls inside.

I empathize heavily with parent birds this time of year, always running, never caught up, the orange diamonds always open for business.

 I keep the Spa clean, scrubbing it with Comet every three days, and refilling it with fresh clean water. It's always got a bird or five on it. When that thing finally crumbles you will hear my howl all the way to the poles. The Magnificent Bird Spa hasn't been in production for at least a decade, and I haven't seen anything to equal it.  Mrs. Troyer (mom of the garden box girls) found a moment to bathe, and she looked like she needed it.

One of the juvenile phoebes who were raised on our little phoebe shelf hidden under the garage eave gave me a very nice shot for  the Fourth of July!
I've just loved having phoebes around the yard this year. I think of Avis and Luther every time I see them. When you raise a species, you keep a special affinity for it for the rest of your days.

I enjoyed watching the garden babes grow up. I tried to get a photo of them without opening the box. The little heads would pop up, then down when they saw me.

So I crept up quietly behind the box, aimed my phone at the opening, and whistled like a bluebird. Ha! Classic shot, taken July 1.

The same bird, having realized her mistake, hunkered down and hiding. You're in no danger, my love.

Meanwhile, out in the meadow, 15-day old tree swallows are growing up. They may be in the box for another week. It takes a long time to grow wings like that.

I made the rounds of my other boxes, finding evidence of blowflies in several nests. This black staining is blowfly droppings, digested bluebird blood. Yeah, yuck.

But in the bottom of the nest were some blowfly pupae that didn't look right to me. Too dry and sort of withered. So I broke one open and found tiny parasitic wasp larvae writhing inside. That pupa will never become a blood-sucking blowfly!

Good on you, wasplet! You can just make out one at the bottom margin of the next shot, right in the middle. Look for its black thorax and clear wings, just below a piece of straw. I carefully put the infested pupae back in the box, so more parasitic wasps would hatch out. Yay!

By July 3, Day 17, the garden girls were looking about ready to go. 

And what of the 17-day old "runt" that I transplanted into a brood three days younger?

 Here she is on July 2, Day 16, with her wing spread. You can see how much better developed her flight feathers are than the 13-day old foster siblings' are.

Here she is at Day 17, with her 14-day-old siblings. She's the one at lower right, with her head buried under another bird. Hanging in there, not even thinking about fledging, and that is as it should be.

I tried the whistle trick and got a shot of her face, just once. Then she hid again.

The next day, she fell for a whistle and begged. What a July 4 present!

This is a cool photo taken through the box entry hole on July 5, the Runt's Day 19, the rest being Day 16. Pretty sure she's the hulk in the right front. I'm so, so happy that this has worked out. I feel sure she'll stay put until the rest feel like fledging. She'll be more than ready to fly strongly by then!

And on this day,  July 5, her biological sisters fledged from the garden box, on day 19!

Here's to my little phone camera, that lets me peek into boxes without frightening babies into the big old world. Here's to sending one more bluebird out into the world, through a little informed and harmless trickery. And here's to hardworking parents everywhere, who do what it takes to get those babies fed and grown and out to seek their fortunes.


Thank you for helping more of these wonderful songbirds make it to fledging. You are their guardian angel, whether they know it or not.

Posted by Anonymous July 6, 2016 at 5:25 PM

So great that the transplanted bluebird is thriving so. Informed and harmless trickery indeed. Our very small Cambridge yard is pulsating with fledglings--robins, cardinals, bluejays, chickadees, 1 pr grackle and, I believe, downy woodpeckers (have only seen the adults, who are behaving like parents with their hyperspeed foraging, but cannot locate the young ones). As a fellow member of the interspecies parent union, I empathize with and am sometimes mentally exhausted by their constant work.

Am envious of your bird water system! I use large plant-pot saucers, and am constantly washing & refilling because they get such heavy use.

I have learned so much from your blog (and books). Thank you.

Posted by claire silvers July 6, 2016 at 5:34 PM

I love happy endings.

Julie, it's exciting to see that your transplant experiment has resulted in so many happy young bluebirds. Bravo! I too have an aging bird spa - it arrived as a Christmas present after I saw pictures of yours on your blog and had to have one. 8 years, one replacement pump, one repaired float, several fiberglass patches and a paint overhaul later, and we're still open for business. In these hot months the birds just love it. Why did this incredible invention disappear?

Posted by Shelly July 6, 2016 at 8:55 PM

Shelly, the husband of the entrepreneur couple who invented and mfrd. it died suddenly and his wife lost heart to carry on. Sad all around. I'm glad to hear yours is still holding on. I handle mine like a hatching egg!

Excellent post and pics Julie!
Love to see them.
Thx! Cindy in WI :)

Posted by Anonymous July 7, 2016 at 3:42 PM

I love those open mouth blue bird pictures.

It's so nice that all the little bluebird girls are successfully fledged; especially the little foster bluebird girlie, thanks to your kindly intervention. :)

Posted by Gail Spratley July 8, 2016 at 5:53 PM

I so miss getting to rum my bluebird survey at Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. I'm hoping to help to set up bluebird boxes in Maine and maybe get to survey them in two more summers. But I'll be back in Montana surveying bluebirds next summer.

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