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And What Became of the Miracle Bluebird?

Monday, June 21, 2021

Man, I've been blogging a lot about bluebirds. But I want to have a record of this strange and at times wonderful spring, and all the things I learned as I messed about with bluebirds. Here are the chicks in the   house by my mailbox, on May 25, '21. 

Opening those boxes and seeing them grow has brought me so much joy.

There have been failures, too--one brood of four unexpectedly lost to cold in the orchard box on the ridiculous date of May 30. That was sad. I kicked myself for a long time over that. But I had a guest here, and I was distracted and not paying enough attention. Note to self--a day and a half of cold rain in late May can kill. OK. Got it.

I had two very large black rat snakes get over two of my baffles and clean out a nice brood of five and a clutch of three eggs, too. Fixed that the day I found it, June 6--that same morning I put up a new higher box with a new baffle, farther out in the field. These predators and the weather keep me on my toes. Then a neighbor pulled that brand new box, baffle and pole up and left it leaning it against the wire fence, saying it was in his way. I just found it like that--no explanation, twice in a row.  The first time, it had a fresh nest, the second, four eggs. And the female bluebird, valiantly building a nest and sitting her eggs through all that, finally had enough, she left her clutch cold. Her record: First clutch: lost to cold; one baby fostered by me. Second clutch: Lost to a snake that got over the baffle. Third clutch of 4 eggs: Lost to...a misunderstanding? It's been a rough year for bluebirds, and for someone who cares so deeply about them. 

Yes, there is sadness. Lots of it. But it's all so beautiful. Here's the nest, taken from the Church box for a quick photo on May 16. My old friend Jeff Warren, gone too soon, sleeps in the background.

 And here we are, at the end of the tale that rolled out when it snowed on April 21, 2021. Of course we all know the story never ends; it just goes on and on. I made a number of visits to Warren 1, the box where I deposited the Miracle Hatchling, the only one to live of a clutch of five left cold for four days in freezing temperatures. To recap, when it became clear the female was never going to come back, I took them in, asked a friend to put them in his incubator, and we were shocked to find that all five hatched, despite their incubation being interrupted late in the process.. Sadly, the chicks were so depleted by the ordeal that only one lived. But they all hatched! And one made it. Miracle.

I had only one box that had eggs that were near hatching--Warren 1. So I stuffed her full of egg food and put that sweet miracle baby in with their eggs, which didn't hatch for another three days! These fabulous parents fed Miracle, while the female continued to incubate her own eggs. 

Miracle was bigger by far--look at the difference in head size between one-day-old foster chicks and four-day-old Miracle (top). Still, I had faith this would all work out. 

I kept a pretty close eye on the box, considering it's several miles from my house. Here is the brood on Day 10. But it's Day 13 for Miracle! The bird to the right, whose head is feathered, and whose wings you can see are feathering out, is Miracle. And I can see by the small amount of blue in those wing feathers that Miracle is a female. She's a bit behind in development for a 13-day-old bluebird, but given the incredibly lousy start she had, we'll cut her a lot of slack. This is working out really well. Yes, she has a three day lead on her foster sibs, but I don't think that's going to be a problem. 

 I visited them on Day 15 of the host chicks' life, and Day 18 of Miracle's. In the back, you can see a 15-day-old male cowering from my looming iPhone. Miracle, I think, is the sweet little blurry face in the foreground, peeking up. I didn't open the box--too late in their development, might scare them into fledging too soon. That was the last thing Miracle needed! This shot was taken May 16. 

I crept back on May 19, 2021--Day 21 for Miracle, Day 18 for her foster sisters. At this point, they would all be good to go if they fledged right now, and I was elated to find them all still in place, as far as I could tell. SUCCESS!! It was so cool to know that Miracle stayed put, though at 21 days she was past a typical fledging age for bluebirds. Good birdie!! She was waiting for her foster siblings to be ready. 

Here's a meta moment--your blogger making these photos. The Warren 1 pair are enthusiastic divebombers, alone among the birds I work with. This has always been the case at this box. Yep, he's hitting me! It takes me back to my least tern work in Connecticut in the early 1980's. Never let them see you flinch.


Onward we go. There may be more bluebird posts, or the blog may just degenerate into summer wonder. You never know. Thanks for reading along.

Say...if you have enjoyed this bluebird story, I highly recommend a new little book by my friend and insanely cool nature writer Sy Montgomery. It's called The Hummingbirds' Gift: Wonder, Beauty, and Renewal on Wings. I fell in love with Sy with Spell of the Tiger and Journey of the Pink Dolphin. I loved The Good Good Pig. And then Soul of an Octopus hit the scene, and I flipped all the way out and have recommended it to so many people. Birdology was great fun--imagine getting up close and personal with cassowaries!! So please, check out The Hummingbirds' Gift.  It's a lovely, quick, breezy read that will ring familiar and true--it's a portrait of a rehabilitator who specializes in raising and releasing orphaned hummingbirds. I've done it for a couple summers, but making a specialty of it? Ummm...hrrrrmmm...I'm so thankful for people like Brenda LaBelle and especially for people who can write like Sy Montgomery. 

                        This is Sylvia, one of my orphans from way back when. Oh, I loved Sylvia. 


Loved reading this all the way through. How I admire your dedication. happy first day of summer

Ooh, I will definitely seek out that hummingbird book by Sy Montgomery! I LOVED Soul of an Octopus and Birdology.

I love seeing those tiny bluebirds. We had a bluebird nesting in one of our boxes earlier in the spring, but I think a House Wren took it over. Darn.

Oh! Thanks for the reminder on Montgomery. Loved Soul of an Octopus.

Your drawing and note of Sylvia...moved me to tears,Julie Z.

About a month ago a friend and I went birding in the Sandia Mountains near Albuquerque.We had just started up the road on foot and I spotted a Western Bluebird with nesting material in her beak. We moved closer and saw the male near the cavity in an aspen tree that was their home. Beyond, in a nearby tree, some Hairy Woodpeckers were set up in another cavity. Both were perhaps eight to ten feet above the ground. Suddenly, an Abert's Squirrel appeared and began running up and down the bluebird's tree, looking to raid the nest. The bluebirds attacked him immediately and were stabbing at his face with their wing tips. The woodpeckers tried to duck their responsibility as the bluebirds attacked the squirrel so much that it finally left the area.
Neither of us even thought about photographing this extraordinary drama. We just stood there, overcome by awe.After reading your post, I immediately recalled this scene.

What an enchanting, heartbreaking, heartwarming series! Can you just get a reality tv show already?!

Sounds like a new book :-)

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