A Bluebird family had a hard time this year. They had tried to nest in the garden since April but the House sparrow chased them out of the first nest box even though they had finished building their nest. Then they picked another nest box on the other side of the garden. She, female is the one who does the nest building, finished the nest and laid two eggs. I think a Woodpecker raided the eggs. Then they moved to a third nest box twenty feet away. She laid five eggs in that one. Again, some bird took four of the eggs. I suspected a Red-bellied woodpecker this time because they like poking their face in the nest boxes. They can easily pick the eggs without destroying the nest. The Bluebirds abandoned the last egg.
At this point I though we had lost them completely this year. But they are determined to raise their family in our garden. They moved to a nest box on the opposite side of the garden. She built a nest in a hurry, laid four eggs and four chicks hatched!!!
We are so happy that we are able to help raise another generation of Eastern Bluebird. They still feed their chicks but I’ve seen only two of them. Hopefully the other two are old enough to be on their own.
After the battle they went through, I’m sure they are tired. But we are hoping they will sire another brood in our yard this summer. The bluebirds, swallows and wrens are family by our standards, although I’m sure they don’t quite see it that way.
This year we have a surplus of Wren families. Both types of Wren, Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) and House Wren (Troglodytes aedon), decided to raise their families in the garden. House Wren is the one who always raise their young here while the Carolina Wren stays with us during the winter then goes back to the wooded areas in late spring. But this year the Carolina Wren stayed and produced two broods with us so far.
The Carolina Wren started their first brood in early May and the chicks fledged some time in early June. They built a nest right in a slot under our patio roof. We let them; they are small enough not to make a mess.
Then to my surprise, they started the second brood right in the same nest. This time four chicks. They are still small and mom and dad are doing a daily feeding relay.
At the same time two pairs of House Wren settled on each end of the property. They built their nests with sticks and lined it with softer materials. Many times they built the nest all the way up to the opening of the box so I can’t get a glimpse of the chicks tucked in deep. I can only tell by the sound of the chicks and the parents flying in and out with food.
In the middle of these two House Wren families raising their young, one of the Wrens started to build a nest in a new box. I don’t know if it’s from one of the pairs or a newcomer.
It’s early in the season still, we may have a Wren symphony by August.
The weather forecast for a foot of snow last Sunday didn’t become reality however the temperature has dropped down to 0 Fahrenheit plus windchill factor of -20 Fahrenheit. Icy rain water from Sunday turned into solid ice on all surfaces. Our driveway, from which we cleared wet snow & slush off and salted, still became skating rink. Wherever I look there is either frozen snow or ice. Conditions like this are difficult for non-migrating birds.
We have a symbiotic relationship with the birds in our garden. Aside from serenading us with their beautiful songs, they help rid us of insects during growing season. We in turn provide food, water and shelter for them in winter. We left brush piles and bird boxes up for them to take refuge in. Weather conditions like this weekend are crucial for us in expressing our gratitude so there will be more of them visiting our garden next year.
Food, water and shelter are three necessary things for non-migrating birds in winter. Most birds can easily find shelter on their own but having a shelter close to their food source makes life easier especially when it’s frigid outside. But when there is deep snow or ice sheets covering everything, it doesn’t matter how luxurious a shelter is. If there’s no food, birds will move on. They also learn where reliable food sources are and tend to stay close by.
We feed them more in winter: two double suet feeders, one tray feeder (only when we are home to monitor it), and two hanging feeders. We fill them with mixed of shelled sunflower seeds, safflower seeds, peanuts, chipped-sunflower seeds, chipped-peanut, and dried-berries. We reduce to one feeder and one suet in late spring when there is plenty of fresh food around.
Heated birdbaths are very crucial and a magnet for winter birds. We place seven birdbaths in the garden during warm weather which are emptied and clean every five days. This is the best way to prevent mosquito larvae to reach maturity. We leave only two heated ones out in winter. Both of them are in the close proximity of the house so we can clean them regularly. Mosquitos still lay eggs in winter, providing warm water. Yes, to my surprise too, I found mosquito larvae in our heated birdbath in winter.
As our relationship goes, we learn to read each others sign language. When the feeder is empty or they have difficulty getting seeds out of it, we will see birds line up on the pool fence facing the house. It’s as though they’re saying ‘What’s wrong with you people? Don’t you know the feeder’s empty?’ When we fill the feeder, they will perch close by, watching us doing our job, and come down as soon as we close the lid.
Now is when we care for them, and they never fail to reciprocate when growing season begins.
This is a busy time of the year for us as well as the birds. We are busy with garden chores-cleaning up, pruning, feeding and planting. The birds are busy building their new families. The Bluebird’s eggs have hatched and the parents have been making endless trips feeding five chicks. They are growing up really fast. It will take around 15-20 days for them to fledge after hatching.
A pair of Tree Swallows have finished building their nest and started to lay eggs. The second pair was chased out of the garden by the first pair every time they checked that nest box.
While the House Wrens are still picking, choosing and building decoy nests in any empty boxes they find, two pairs of Chickadees have already laid eggs. One on each side of the yard.
Having made the destructive & nasty house sparrows unwelcome in the yard, we’ve become home to the colorful & friendly. Now the yard lights up daily in a delightful symphony.
The temperature is still seesawing, but most of the migrating birds have reached us on their usual schedule. The Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) have finally settled in one of the bird boxes and have started building their nest despite harassment from the House sparrows. We really have to keep an eye on this one to make sure that the sparrows don’t rout them.
The Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula) came back as soon as the flowering fruit trees like cherry and pear here blossomed. One of them was waiting patiently at the feeder station for the welcome mat. We promptly cut a few oranges and put them on a tray for them. It didn’t take them long to dive in for the juice, they must be hungry from their long flight.
Gray Catbirds, Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Chipping sparrows are also here. The first two still play hide and seek with us; every time we took the cameras out they flew off. The Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina), the smallest sparrow around here, are not camera shy. The Ruby-throated Hummingbird haven’t reached here yet. Only the Bleeding heart flowers have start to bud and the Columbine still have a long way to go. We use the blooming of these flowers as an indication of the arrival of the Hummingbirds. The Columbine is a more reliable reference.
In the mean time, the resident Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) took no time in starting their family. So far she has laid five eggs and any day now we’ll will see the first chick.
The Black-capped Chickadees (Parus atricapillus) have almost completed their nest construction. It looks very comfortable with moss and a fine hair lining. It will be a couple of days before we see the first egg.
We are only missing the Ruby-throated Hummingbird but they should reach our garden soon. A flight from down south on their tiny wings takes a little longer than the others.
As much as Mother Nature doesn’t want to let go of winter weather, birds in our garden don’t want any part of it. Their songs are much louder now and they chase each other around in the garden a lot more too. There are a couple of things indicating spring has arrived: American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis) are molting and the arrival of Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor).
American Goldfinches are gregarious birds. They flock together and never stop chirping. Sometimes we have 20 or 30 of them crowding around the feeders. A male Goldfinch has very bright yellow feathers with black and white stripes on the wings in summer but he’ll molt to a greenish brown in winter. He’ll put on his brown winter coat in autumn. Many of them have that ‘rolled in the soot’ look now.
Many birds like the Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) and the House Finches (Carpodacus mexicanus) have already paired up. The Northern Cardinals are still chasing one another around, claiming territory and mates.
We heard and saw Tree swallows that flew back from the Carolinas and only to be hit by snow the next day. They haven’t come down to check on the nest boxes yet. Hopefully they nest early enough and will not to be chased out of their usual nest box by the Bluebirds.
We have been hit by a brutally cold winter since Christmas that has become much worse in the last couple of days. Yesterday and today the temperature hovering in the single digits, Fahrenheit, during the day and dropping down below 0°F at night. This number does not take windchill into account which would drop it into negative double digits. This extreme cold temperature, common for those who live in a much colder climate, is a concern for us in the mid-Northeastern part of the US. Even the local birds have retreated.
We had a blizzard three days ago which dumped 5 inches of snow in our area. Reservoirs around here iced over thick enough to make ice fishing a common site again. At times like this we put up more bird boxes, lined with fluffy cotton at the bottom, so our avian friends can have a place to roost away from high winds and frigid temperatures. We also put more feeders up along our patio and make sure that there is clean water in the heated birdbaths.
As far as I know Downy woodpeckers and the bullying House sparrows roost in the boxes. This winter, however, a few Bluebirds have been roosting in one of the boxes- the box that they may have been born in. It’s very convenient for them to just look out of the box to see if we have put the feeders back up in the morning before they come out.
They enjoying our hospitality and we enjoy watching them in the comfort of our home. All photos were taken through the patio door; it’s blow 10°F outside.
These are just some of the birds that frequent our feeders in winter. Most are welcome even the ones that come in a flock like the House finch and Pine siskin but bullies like House sparrows and European Starlings we chase off. In spring and summer, the table is turned and they pay us back when they serenade us from dawn to dusk and patrol our garden for insects. Symbiosis indeed!