Good Year For Bluebirds

Starting Their Second Brood

I think the Bluebirds are getting more comfortable with our garden now.  They no longer leave us during winter.  We provide roosting boxes, food and water in heated birdbaths when nothing much is around in winter and we help with guarding their nesting box during their breeding season.  Since they have become our resident birds, they have started their nesting early.  Last year they had two broods and this year they have already started a second brood while still feeding their chicks from the first brood.

They started the first brood in April. Once the female lays eggs, we start to monitor the nest box weekly to make sure they are fine.  Four out of five eggs hatched with the 1st brood.

May 7th – not much feathering and eyes still closed
May 14th – They are much bigger and have feathers. This was our last photo because we don’t want them to fledge too early

We stopped checking their nest box when the chicks have full feathers.  If they fledge too early, out of concern for their own safety, they could become other birds food.  So we don’t want to stress them with visits.

May 30th – The female tends to one of the chicks in between building a new nest
A couple taking a break from feeding the chicks and building a new nest
June 4th – The first egg in a new nest-second brood
Two of the babies from the first brood perching on top of new nest box
Male keeps his eyes on his chicks and the new nest too

The second nest is right by our vegetable garden and the green pole is only a couple of feet from the front of the nest box.  Hopefully there will be another three or more chicks from the second brood.

Migrating Birds

They Are Back

Around this time in spring we prepare a welcome mat for the migrating birds, both the ones that come to stay for a season or just passing through.  We clean the birdhouses that were left out during winter for cold night roosting and set them back up.  Plenty of food is put out as well and we make some effort to insure the feeders won’t get emptied by larger birds like the Mourning doves, Grackles, European Starlings and Blue Jays by using weight sensitive feeders.  Grackles and Blue Jays manage to work these feeders anyway by bouncing up and down.  But we don’t mind since they can’t really land on the feeder blocking small birds from getting on.

We take our cues from the plants and trees in the garden.  We put oranges out when the cherry trees blossom; that is when the Baltimore Orioles (Icterus galbula) start to show up.  We put sugar syrup out when the Columbine starts to bloom.  That’s when Ruby-throated Hummingbirds reach us from the south.

Arriving on the same schedule are the tree Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor). They’re looking for nesting boxes now.  This year is much harder for them since the Eastern Bluebird beat them to nesting, having eggs now, get very territorial.  They don’t want any neighbors, even when the closest box is 20 feet away the male Bluebird still chases any bird who has the temerity to stray too close.  Also House Sparrows that try to nest in every box in the yard.  It seems like an uphill battle for the Swallows but they still try and we do our best chasing the Sparrows to give them an edge.

A pair of Tree Swallows checking one of the nest boxes.  They have not yet picked one.

The Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus) has also arrived.  Generally we only see the male at this time of year.  Some years they will stay through the season but some years they just pass through.

A male Rose-breasted Grosbeak enjoy chipped sunflower seeds and peanuts
A male Baltimore Oriole enjoying oranges

I know that the Baltimore Orioles are here, aside from the cherry tree cue, we can hear them.  They haven’t come down for the oranges yet.  Above is an image captured last year.

 

Eastern Bluebird

The First Family To Settle

Spring is a very active season for birds.  I can tell that spring is really coming when the male American Goldfinches shed their winter coats and the male Cardinals are no longer willing to eat together.  The same thing goes for the Eastern Bluebirds which no longer flock together like they do in winter.  There is also their singing.

The first pair of birds that took up residence in our garden this year is the Eastern Bluebird.  After picking and choosing among several nest boxes in the yard, they ended up at the same one the bluebirds nested in last year.  I’m not sure that it’s the same pair though, since a flock of them stayed with us this winter.

Male Eastern Bluebird staying on top of the house they picked
The female keeps her eyes on it from the tree above
Their new home

Once the female has started to lay eggs, the male become very territorial.  A Tree Swallow who just migrated back, checked the nest box for availability and was immediately chased away.  As aggressive as the male bluebird is, he’s no match to the House sparrow.  We have to diligently monitor all the nest boxes in the garden for signs of the House Sparrows.  So far we have been successfully hosted Eastern Bluebirds, Tree Swallows, House Wrens, Chickadees and Tufted Titmouse in our nest boxes by monitoring the House Sparrows attempts.

April 16: three beautiful blue eggs
April 22: five eggs
She rarely leaves the nest now

Hopefully most of the eggs she’s caring for now will make it to adulthood.  We’re happy to see more and more of them each year and to know that they are comfortable enough to stay with us year round.

These are the one’s that use the nest boxes.  The one’s that prefer to build their own nests like the American Robins, Chipping Sparrows and Song Sparrows have already picked their spots in the foliage.  I’ll have to check on the Robins next time I have a chance.  Last I checked, they had just finished building their nest.

We are still waiting for the Grey Catbirds, Baltimore Orioles and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds to come back.  The wait won’t be much longer because the Cherry trees have started to blossom and the Columbine is starting to bud.

 

 

Spring Has Sprung

…With A Cold Shoulder

I took the day off from work yesterday and the weather was on my side.  Still plenty of snow on the ground but the temperature had soared to nearly 60°F.  The honeybees should have been out and about now with a temperature this high, but alas, none to be seen.  So I decided to inspect one hive.  Intrinsically I knew I had to face my fear somehow.  It’s better to know early than not know at all.  I suspected they may have died of starvation since the weather has been inconsistent.  That forces the bees to consume their stored food faster leaving them with nothing inside and nothing for them to forage outside.  But I wasn’t expecting what I saw.  There were no bees in the hive.  None at all.

I ended up opening all the hives.  My worst fear had come true.  There were only a few dead bees in each hive which was otherwise empty.  There were plenty of capped and uncapped honey frames in each hive but no live occupants.

First sadness hit, then depression, then self-doubt….what did I do wrong?  I’ve been taking a mite count throughout the season and it’s been very low.  We provided clean water.  We provided food, with the supporting evidence of plenty left over in each hive. The only thing I did not do was treat them with chemicals.  But I have never treated them from the start.  They were fine and happy for many years, from one generation to the next, living their lives naturally.

I’m still sad and depressed but giving up is not in my nature.  I will clean up the empty hives on my next day off and have them readied for new occupants.  New honeybee packages are coming in next month and I hope we will work well together like their long gone relatives.

But there was a bright part of the day…I finally dug my way to the igloo, my cold frame.  What was left in there were carrots, Mustard greens, a few Pac choi too.  The lettuce I had sown in January had come up, barely reaching half an inch.

The path I had to dig to get to the cold frame
Pulled some fresh carrots from inside the cold frame. Small but tasty.

I pulled weeds out, watered the soil a little and sowed a few more seeds: Mizuna, Mustard greens, Radish, Arugula, Chinese broccoli, and more lettuce.  They should start to sprout in a week and within a couple more weeks I can have my first salad of the season.

Sowed some seeds after pulling carrots and clearing some dead vegetables

Our resident Eastern Bluebirds are also looking for a nest box in our yard and haven’t given up despite harassment from the House sparrow.

A pair of Eastern Bluebirds enjoy their meal and keep their eyes on their prospect home

As the Buddhists say, ‘all is impermanence.’  There will be more honeybees.  The garden is still there and this year’s seedlings are all sprouting high in the house and itching to get their feet in the ground outside.  I really can’t complain.

 

Hello Spring

With Snow On The Ground

We had around two feet of snow last Tuesday and most of it is still on the ground.  The daytime temperatures are hovering between 30 and 40°F which isn’t helping to melt it.  Today is the official first day of spring but outside, you would never know it.  It’s more like ‘Hello spring, where are you?’ to me.  Crocuses, Hellebores and Snowdrops were completely buried under.  My little cold frame looks more like a little igloo in the garden.

It’s not only me that was fooled by nature, the Robins have already made an appearance despite the snow.  The American Goldfinches have started to drop their winter coats.  We try to help them by providing food and water when there isn’t much out there for them besides endless snow.

A male American Goldfinch, amidst snow fall, starting to show their bright yellow plumage, their summer color.
Cold frame is covered with snow. I’ll try to dig my way there to see how it looks inside.

I had sown some lettuce seeds inside the cold frame a couple of weeks ago because I wasn’t expecting to get this much snow around now.  I’ll dig my way in there tomorrow to see how they are doing.

Though it doesn’t look like spring outside, a new cycle of life, a new season, has already begun inside the house.  This is the time I usually start tomato, pepper, eggplant, Swiss chard and kale seedlings.  The first three need to be done around 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost so they can have enough time to grow, bear fruits and ripen.  As for the Swiss chard and kale, they like cold weather anyway so I can put them out in the garden early.

Variety of tomato and pepper seedlings for the new season
Variety of Swiss chard and Kale seedlings

Next, is prepping tropical plants in the basement for their summer outdoors.  Spring should come around the corner and stay within a few weeks.  But who knows? We had snow in April.

 

 

 

House Bound

And Enjoying Bird Watching

Snow is still on the ground, a residue of the snowfall a few days ago.  It’s very peaceful watching snow falling and the quietness afterward as the snow absorbs sound pretty well.  Though it was too cold to go outside, a joyful moment was still there.

We hang bird feeders along the patio roof during winter which makes it  much easier for us to refill them and we can bird watch when circumstance stops us from doing anything else.  It’s also easier for us to patrol and protect the feeders from European Starlings and House Sparrows.  The down side is we have to sweep bird droppings and whatever else they’ve dropped off the ground underneath.  In spring, after we move the feeders back to the garden, we use soap and water to clean the remaining effluent off the fence.  But it’s worth the effort.  We can observe our avian friends closely and they can also take shelter in the woodpile under the roof from predators too large to squeeze in.

These are some of what we enjoyed a few days ago.

A pair of Cardinal and a House finch waiting their turn in snow
A pair of Northern Cardinals and a House Finch await their turn for the feeders in snow
Female Cardinal
Female Northern Cardinal puffs her feathers up against the cold
Bright red male Cardinal
Bright red male Northern Cardinal looks like an ornament in the snow.  We have plenty of them in the garden as many of them were born right here.
American Tree Sparrow
A little puff ball- American Tree Sparrow-also came for the seeds
Female Bluebird
A female Eastern Bluebird enjoying warmth from the heated birdbath.  We have a flock of five bluebirds that stayed with us this winter.
Downey Woodpecker
Plenty of Downey Woodpeckers year round and they no longer seem to care when we are close by.
House Finch
House Finch also flocking around throughout the year
Dark-eyed Junco
Slate-colored Dark-eyed Junco visit us only in winter and leave for their boreal home by early spring
Junco
Female and young Dark-eyed Junco have more brown color on them
American Goldfinch stay with us throughout the year. The male only change his summer bright yellow coat to a much duller brown in winter. We take a hint that spring is coming when they start to drop the brown feathers.
American Goldfinch stay with us throughout the year. The male only changes his summer bright yellow coat for a much duller brown in winter. We take it as a hint that spring is coming when they start to drop the brown feathers.
Chickadee
Here is our most friendly resident- Black-capped Chickadee
Song Sparrow
Member of the Avian Chorus- Song Sparrow-as the name suggested, sing one of the sweetest songs during spring and summer
White-throated Sparrow
We have a variety of sparrows, this White-throated Sparrow is also a good singer
Titmouse
This Tufted Titmouse has been checking the weaved birdhouse our friend gave us a few times during the day.  I wonder if he roosts in there at night.
Hairy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker is twice the size of the Downey Woodpecker and seldom come to the feeders.  This winter we have a pair that frequents one of the suets daily.
Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch tend to eat upside down most of the time
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Red-breasted Nuthatch– a smaller cousin of the White-breasted Nuthatch seldom comes to the feeder.  They usually make a fast dash to the feeder, but won’t stay on it like its cousin.

There are others that are more elusive like the Carolina wren, the Pileated Woodpecker and the Northern Flicker.  Clearly not wanting the publicity with being caught on camera.

Rescue Mission

Saving A Mourning Dove

I admit I’ve never really liked Mourning Doves.  They take over the tray feeders, sitting in the middle and keeping others out.  They sit in the birdbaths and enjoy the water while fouling it.  They won’t leave until they are done or until I chase them off and they don’t sing.  Their worst offense is eating my vegetable seedlings or just sitting on them.

We’re not enemies, just not really allies.

The relationship changed three days ago when I found an injured dove in the garden.  One of his wings was mangled near its root and there was a little blood in the neck area.  He couldn’t fly.  He hopped away from me when I got close then froze when I got much closer.  All birds freeze when they know their hunter is in the neighborhood.  From the way he looked I guessed he had just escaped being hawk food.

The injured Mourning Dove with one wing badly mangled but lucky enough to escape.
The injured Mourning Dove with one wing badly mangled but lucky enough to escape.

I had conflicted feelings on whether I should let nature run its course or help him. Admittedly I consider Mourning doves mostly just a pest, however they aren’t bullies like the House sparrows or European starlings.  But letting any animal suffer is anathema to me.  After deciding to try to help him, we weren’t sure there were any rescue centers that would want to take a dove in since they’re so common.  We asked friends and colleagues if they knew any centers that would take a dove.  Suggestions came in by the end of the day, Friday, but it was too dark by then to find the dove and he’s pretty good at hiding even in bright day light.  It should be mentioned that the deer fence keeps out coyotes, foxes, dogs and other critters that would find an ambulatory and grounded dove a great chew toy.

Our friend Alison, a genuine bird lover with a lot of knowledge in this area, reminded us that he’s hiding and should be out in the morning.  Lucky for him that we fenced our backyard.  My concern was surviving the cold.

True to her word, he showed up the next morning trying and unable to reach a birdbath.  I got him in to a cardboard box and ready for transport.  I decided to keep him in the house for warmth.  This being a long weekend (Martin Luther King Day), we weren’t sure that any of these centers would be open.  He looked weak but still had a lot of fighting spirit.

A made up shelter with shaded paper for warmth, food and water.
A made up shelter with shredded paper for warmth, food and water.

Rescue centers in our area were closed but Alison came through with a rescuer who was willing to take him if we could transport him to New Jersey, a little bit over an hour’s drive.

He’s in good hands now.  I’ve never searched for a wildlife rescue center before.  It’s nice to know that there are so many people out there who are willing to help an injured wild animal even when it’s not on an endangered species list, let alone on a Sunday evening.  He refused our offer to help with expenses for the dove’s treatment.

In between this rescue mission, we still chased other doves off our tray feeder.  Ironic, isn’t it?  Our reasoning is helping those that cannot help themselves.  If you’re fine, you’re fair game.  The dove tormentor (we think) also showed up and stayed for a while, darting from trees to the pool fence and the roof.  A majestic Broad-winged hawk on patrol.

A Broad-winged hawk, probably the dove tormentor. He has al most three feet wingspan
A Broad-winged hawk, probably the dove tormentor. His wingspan stretch out almost three feet and sporting a short tail.

I love birds of prey as much as song birds and we have plenty of hawks around here: Red-tailed, Broad-winged, Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s.  I have difficulty telling the Broad-winged hawk apart from the Cooper’s hawk if I can’t see their tails.

Frontal up close
Broad-winged hawk from the front, up close
Cooper's hawk has much longer tail. This image is from a couple of years ago when I caught him in the act of dismantle a bird.
Cooper’s hawk has a much longer tail. This image is from a couple of years ago when I caught him in the act of dismantling a bird.
One of the Cooper's hawk decided that our kitchen is also his kitchen; he hang out on the woodpile outside the kitchen.
One of the Cooper’s hawks decided that our kitchen is also his kitchen; he hangs out on the woodpile outside the kitchen waiting for his food to come in to the nearby feeders.

We never chase the hawks away as population and rodent control is in their job description.  If the birds or rodents are fast enough they’ll continue to live on, nature’s rule.  But if they’re merely injured like the dove, we’ll help give them a second chance.

We are waiting for an update on his condition and hope that he can be healed.  It is within the soul of all birds, the need to kiss the sky.