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Checking on the Bluebird

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

A sleepy bee, planning to spend the night with its face buried in red clover. One could do worse. 

Phoebe and I placed the starved baby bluebird with its foster family the evening of July 17. I gave it a day and a half to settle in, then went out early in the afternoon of July 19 to check and see how things were going. I figured it would either be a lot better or dead, but either way I had to know.

It was a lot better! Note that it's in the right front corner of the nest, which is where we put it on the 17th.  You can tell it from the others because it has more pink skin showing. It held that position in the nest, because none of the other babies were going to give their positions up. Most people don't know that baby birds hold their places in the nest, but the ones I've worked with all have. When I was painting nestlings for Baby Birds, all I had to do was take the baby at a certain position in the nest each time, and I'd have the same baby to paint day after day. That was good, because I wanted to track the development of one individual. But it was also good because the baby I was working with quickly learned the drill, settled down, enjoyed the extra feedings, and didn't fidget as much as a newbie would have. When you're drawing something tiny from life, a subject that doesn't fidget is a very good thing.

I'm sure this place-holding behavior helps the parents know who's been fed and who's been skipped and who's doing well and who's not doing so well, if they all keep to their seats. Teachers understand.

I was amused to find the foster chick still begging voraciously, and the two nestlings nearest the foster child decided that was a good idea too.

Then they all got the memo that I was not a bluebird, and suddenly went quiet. Oh. Oops.

Yes, our little foster is smaller, but it's alive and seemingly doing well, and that was cause for celebration! Its siblings are Day 8, and it's Day 7, on July 19. I was very pleased to see the hyperactivity and trembling had ceased. The baby seemed as right as rain, and bound to catch up with its siblings soon.

I felt comfortable leaving them be for a few days. The next time I checked was July 22. Liam and I went out this time, because he hadn't had a chance to meet the foster baby.  Day 11 is traditionally the day a bluebird's feathers have emerged sufficiently to sex them. I carefully pulled the nest out, because the foster family was now Day 12, and that is traditionally the day fledglings can get jumpy, even though it's way too early to jump.

I didn't really expect the foster child's feathers to have burst the sheaths yet, with the bad start it had had in life, but I could sex the other chicks.

This is a female. Its blue is sparse and dull, not the bright cobalt of a male. There was one male and three females in this batch of four. The fifth, foster child remained a mystery. I'd just have to come back!

In the photo below, you can see the exposed pink skin of the foster chick, in contrast to the dusky, feather-covered skin of the others.

I came back on July 23, Baby's Day 12, to scrutinize those feathers. I could see juust enough to guess that Foster Baby is a female. She's still behind for Day 12, but making progress. In this photo, you can also surmise that the blackberries are in. :) Fare well, little bluebird. We'll be back to check on you in a couple of days.


Blackberries and bluebird baby survival - can't beat that. Kim in PA

I love reading about this baby bluebird. She's been given the best chance ever of surviving. Thank you for keeping us posted.

I love everything about this! That little one is lucky to have you!

How interesting. I never thought about using a foster family for a wild bird. I've done it with broody hens, so it should be surprising to me at all. What a lucky little bird to have you to help her out.

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