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Placing the Miracle Chick- Part 5

Thursday, June 10, 2021


On the frigid, rainy morning of April 29, I went out to check my boxes, leave mealworms on the roofs for the adults and stuff any young hatchlings with egg food. Then I made a beeline to R's house, to give Miracle Baby its first feeding out of the incubator. Oh, it was hungry, but it was strong, and I had a good feeling about this bird. As an embryo it had already been through so much. It wanted to live!

I fed it four times before creeping up to Warren 1 and slipping it in alongside five near-term eggs. I also included a pipping egg from the cold clutch, hoping it might hatch successfully. It was the best I could do. 

Here's how the hatchling looked the next afternoon, April 30. I was delighted to see it plump and pink. 

Four of Warren 1's five eggs wound up hatching on May 2. The pipping egg from the cold clutch died in the shell, not surprisingly. So our Miracle Baby would be three days older than its foster siblings. I had to have faith it would all work out, because at this point I was out of options. What a sigh of relief, to have my last orphan in good bluebird care.

Here are the newborn Warren 1's, with a great big Miracle Baby asleep on the upper left on May 2.

Here's Miracle Baby on May 5, with a couple of its foster siblings. Bigger, even showing the beginnings of pinfeathers on its wings, but not hideously out of the ballpark. I'm hoping for the best.

The bluebirds occupying Warren 1 are great parents--they're the ones who divebomb me every time I approach the box. But Mrs. Warren 1, I will aver, is a lousy nest builder. So while I was there checking on Miracle Baby, I took her brood and her crappy little nest out, and you could see right through the bottom of it!

The whole thing was crawling with chicken mites, too! Ack! This box seems always to host them. They likely hide in the crevices over the winter.

I put the babies in a white tissue nest while I drenched the box interior with Glass Plus and swabbed it out with paper towels, and made a fresh nest from dried tufted hairgrass that I gather in my meadow. While I worked, the mites on the chicks crawled off onto the tissues--don't know why they do that, but it always works! 
Then I replaced them in a nice cushy fresh grass nest, in a virtually mite-free box. Sigh of relief.

Speaking of sighs of relief, here's Roquefort Eddy, the tiny skinny orphan that Curtis sniffed, on April
30, surrounded by the infertile eggs of their foster mother. I removed them after I took this photo. 

THIS is a FAT baby bluebird! Here's Roquefort Eddy on May 2, growing like a weed!

Little Roquefort Eddy grew and grew, and by May 5, I could tell it was a boy. 14 days old here, and he got a new nest, too, because his had mites. That was a little tricky--he squawked and shrilled and leapt out of the box, whoops! Zick! Remember your own damn rules! I laughed and caught him, stuffed some paper towels atop him, finished cleaning the box and making the nest, and installed him in it. Just to be safe I stuffed the box opening with paper towels until I was sure he had settled down. Crept up, removed them--all was still. Roquefort Eddy stayed put. A successful, if way too late in the game, nest change!

Meanwhile, Roquefort's mother, who had abandoned the brood of 6 newly hatched chicks farther down the same road on April 21, had started over.
She's incubating 5 eggs as of May 12. Hey, no judgement, Mrs. Eddy. You have more sense than I do.
(And as I revise this on June 10, those eggs all hatched and have all fledged and she's feeding them. I'm going to bet she goes for Round 3. Wish her luck.)

I stopped at the little Methodist church and had a chat with my old friend Jeff, who'd put up the bluebird boxes I was now messing around with. I know he'd be bemused and amused and befuddled by my overcommittment to these birds. But he'd also be intensely interested, and learning right alongside me. He wouldn't read my blog, much as I wished he would, but oh, we'd be yakking. I miss those chats. I'm grateful I get to see his fine brother Jay now and then while I'm cruising the bluebird trail. We're both too busy, but we find time to catch up.

That's a bluebird box, a turkey, a John Deere, and a boombox on his stone--some of the things he loved. I adore the concept and the art on these storytelling stones.

Back home, I was actively subsidizing two more broods of bluebirds, the first to hatch on my trail. Here's how the oldest brood looked April 30. It was pretty easy to help them--I just walked out a few times a day, leaving a crock of mealworms on the roof of the box. The adults took care of the actual feeding. Man, they were happy to see me first thing on a wet, freezing, rainy morning! 

They still appear out of nowhere whenever they see me, hoping for mealworms. Their babies fledged on May 4 at the age of 19 days, and the adults are keeping them nearby, and were still accepting handouts as of May 12. It brings me joy to help them along. I'd much prefer warm nights and sunny days, and not having to buy mealworms by the 3,000 lot, but they're well worth the effort. I get my mealworms from Tim at   Always highest quality and fast shipping, and far more affordable than pet store worms!

In the yard, another box is fledging as I write on May 12, even with 32 degree night temperatures. You can be sure the adults are eager to see me pop out the door each morning!

And the Ritchie baby, left for dead by its mother on April 21? It's the big male at the bottom of this photo. Isn't that beautiful? He fledged along with his broodmates from the Hendershot nest somewhere around May 8. I still remember him, stone cold, but beginning to squirm in my bra on April 21. I call the incubator chick the Miracle Chick, but they're all miracles to me, surviving in this cruel spring.

My batting average--three chicks fostered and saved out of seven chicks and five eggs taken in--isn't anything to brag about. But I'm sure the additional broods I fed and subsidized are in far better shape than they would have been without the feedings. They may not have made it at all without the subsidy. 

 As much work as it's been--and it has been all-consuming--it is good and sweet and right to know there are bluebirds out there who wouldn't be on the earth without my help. I'm not sure I'd want to do this all again. Nah, I definitely don't want to have to do this again. 

But then again, with the weather the way it has been these past two springs, and my heart in the shape it's in, I'm not sure I have a choice. Sometimes it snows in April. 

Five Cold Eggs and a Miracle: Part 4

Thursday, June 3, 2021


 Meanwhile, in a box out along my driveway, a female bluebird inexplicably abandonded her clutch of five eggs on Day 11 of incubation--only three days from hatching! It took awhile for it to sink in on me that she'd done it, but on the snowy morning of April 21, I'm pretty sure she quit sitting and let her eggs go cold. None of my other bluebirds abandoned eggs--they all sat them steadfastly through the cold snap.

When I finally checked the driveway box on April 24, assuming she was sitting straight through, I was shocked to find them ice-cold. I was inclined to leave them. I have had this happen, and had the female return and resume incubation, and some of the clutch has hatched! However, I saw the female and her mate prospecting at the next box down my driveway, and I knew that meant that she had no intention of returning. She was already starting over.

For those who wonder: Male bluebirds have no bare brood patch on the abdomen for warming eggs, and they lack the instinct to incubate or brood young, so it's all about the female's choices here. The male plays a supporting role, bringing food to female and young, but if his mate decides to abandon eggs or young, the male is unequipped to keep them warm and alive.

I brought the cold eggs into the house, wondering if I could do anything for them. I candled them: all fertile. I could see bright red blood vessels, and the dark mass of the chick inside. The clear space is a gas space, which helps the chick breathe, and takes waste gases to be passed out through the shell.

But were the eggs still alive, after going so very cold for three days, and sitting at room temperature for another day? I mulled and pondered. I wanted to know. And I figured nothing ventured, nothing gained. I looked at my notebook, and I figured out which boxes I might put them in if any of them actually hatched. 
If they all hatched, I was going to surprise Warren 2, the infertile mom, with a whole new brood, and take Roquefort Eddy (The Skinny Orphan) and put that fat little thing in another box with chicks its age, where it would continue to thrive. Crazy, I know, but I did have a plan, and I was pretty sure it could work. That infertile female was up for anything I threw her, after faithfully sitting clear eggs for 20 days. She was pumping food into little Roquefort Eddy until that chick was about to pop.

I called my friend R., who has a huge heart, owns an incubator and more importantly knows how to use it. I call in reinforcements when I'm over my head.  I decided to take the five eggs to him on the evening of April 25. I was bone tired from a full day of baby bluebird wrangling, and I didn't get them to him until almost 10 pm. R. had the incubator up to the desired temperature and humidity, and he started incubating them that same night.

Several days went by. With each passing day, I lost a little more hope that anything interesting would happen. But I'd seen red blood vessels when I candled the eggs, and I had a strong feeling they were still alive. 

I was hanging in my Air Chair on the evening of April 29 when I got a text from R. No words, just this picture. He had walked into the back room, peeked in and found a baby asking for food. Holy holy holy cosmic stardust. One bluebird had hatched. And the other three (one egg had cracked and died early on) were showing real signs of life, rocking back and forth. 

I told R. to make a mama out of something soft, and to cover the begging baby up for the night. I had faith that it could live on its yolk sac until I could get to town first thing in the morning. Its parents wouldn't have  been able to feed it in the middle of the night, either. So he quickly sewed up a scrap of fake fur and that baby went to sleep. 

It's a reflex, this gaping when you're uncovered as soon as you're hatched, but it is a very powerful releaser for the parent birds, and for me. 


In the end, four of the five eggs wound up hatching or at least pipping. Only one baby made it: the first one out, the one you see in the video.

The next two photos are sad. They're the babies that hatched but died within hours. Look and compare them with the baby that made it. 

There's nothing to him--he's skin and bones. 

I think that when an egg has to sit unincubated in the cold for four days, the chick has to live somehow, and it draws on the yolk, which is its power pack for what should be a 14-day odyssey. Thanks to the snowstorm, these chicks had an 18 day wait. They used up their power packs, and had no reserves 
to live on after the tremendous energy expenditure of hatching. I can only guess that the baby who survived started out with a very large yolk in its egg.

It's very sad to see these wasted little things. But what's marvelous about this is that they hatched at all, and that one made it. I didn't expect any of them to hatch, really. And the other thing that's cool is that incubation, which had progressed for 10 days, was arrested on the morning of Day 11, put on hold for days 11, 12, 13, and 14, and then resumed, was completed in four more days. R. started incubation around 10:30 pm April 25, and several chicks hatched the evening of April 29. So they had a total of 14 incubated days, which is the normal bluebird incubation period, and they hatched pretty much on time. 

Like I said, I do all this to learn. I'm compelled to do it because I care about the birds, but curiosity is a very strong driver. I wanted to see what would happen if we tried  this. 

And now my problem was: What do I do with this tiny hatchling, who needs bluebird parents to grow up strong and well?

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