Every year we look for new lives visiting our garden and nature has never stopped surprising us. I still remember when I saw my first Downy woodpecker in the garden years ago when the yard was still barren, just green lawn and trees. I was so excited to see the woodpecker, a rare occasion back then.
After a decade of organic gardening and expanding it out over our lawn a couple of feet a year, we now have plenty of visitors in the garden. We have a lot of Downy woodpeckers; five or six of them at a time. They became so common that they no longer drew excitement. And, they have no fear of us either. So now we look for someone new to arrive or among the annual migrating visitors.
I finally got a shot of the Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea) this year. I first spotted the bird last year but very briefly and wasn’t sure it was an Indigo Bunting. Three days ago it landed only a few foot from me. I froze. I couldn’t turn the camera around without scaring it off. The telephoto lens wouldn’t have focused that close anyway. After a few minutes he took off so I had my chance. Not a good one but I’m happy to have my first shot at this extraordinary, beautiful bird.
We were glad to see our old friends who flew back from the South, the Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor). It’s fun to watch them chirping while gliding around at high speed. This spring one of their usual nest boxes was taken first by an Eastern Bluebird family (previous post) which had already produced four beautiful eggs. One of the Swallows poked its head in the house to check it out anyway. He was promptly bombarded by the male Bluebird and ended up in a nasty fight on the ground before the Swallow could get away. Both Bluebirds now stand guard not just on their nest box but on one other nest box close by.
One pair settled for the box by the vegetable garden. Watching them communicate with one another is quite funny. I wish I could tell if they are the same pair as settled there for the last two years. The Swallows have been nesting in our garden for the past several years and we hosted two broods last year alone so they could be the younger generation that were born here.
It doesn’t really matter which pair they are; they are all welcome.
Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) have been back in the neighborhood for a few weeks. They have been checking nest boxes around the garden but they have been chased out of each nest box they tried by the House Sparrows. In turn, we chased the Sparrows out. It’s a spring ritual that we have to do in order to secure a place for the songbirds.
Finally, a pair of Tree Swallows settled into one of the boxes. Hopefully, the other two pairs will not be discouraged by the Sparrows and will find another place to raise their families. We had three Swallow families in our garden last year and they tend to come back to the same place year after year.
The female has been building her nest for the last few days. Her mate keeps an eye on the intruder Sparrows. It’s fun to see her selecting nest material and trying to get it into the nest box.
Spring is the busiest time in our own garden aviary. We have both resident aerialists that stay with us year round and the ones that travel back and forth from North to South America annually. Every spring we roll out the red carpet for them, helping them stay strong and nurturing a new generation. By the end of spring some of them already have a new extended family and are ready to start a second brood. Most of them are camera shy but some of them have become used to seeing me in the garden all the time…just another big funny looking deer to them.
This Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis) couple had three chicks. Yes, I checked. I patrol the bird houses in the garden to make sure that the House Sparrows (Passer domesticus) haven’t taken them over and to insure the Cowbirds haven’t laid their eggs in one of the nests. This pair ended up with one surviving chick. I witnessed one chick becoming a Bluejay (Cyanocitta cristata) lunch. I have no idea what happened to the other chick so I’m hoping it survived. They just had another brood, four newly hatched chicks, hopefully more than one will survive.
The Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis) is one of the smartest and friendliest birds in our garden. They come back every spring and stay until late fall. We put oranges out as soon as we see the first one show up. They help keep the Japanese beetles under control. Their first brood, two chicks, have grown up and as far as I know one pair has started a nest in the front Forsythia bush.
All the books I have read indicated that Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) produce one brood a year in the Northern US but this pair by the vegetable garden are having a second one. Maybe because their first brood, three chicks in all, and their nest was destroyed by our neighbor’s cat. They didn’t give up and rebuilt the nest in the same box. We put a squirrel guard flange under the nest box this time to prevent the cat from getting to the nest. I haven’t peeked to see how many eggs they have. The good news is the Tree Swallow family that nested in the front yard produced five chicks and they have all fledged.
When we see the American Robin (Turdus migratorius) in the neighborhood that means spring is coming. A couple of pairs have nested in our garden each year. They help a lot by picking grubs off the lawn and gardens. Their first brood have all grown up now and they’ve already started a second one.
This House Wren (Troglodytes aedon) was building a nest she ended up nesting in. They have a habit of building a few dummy houses before they actually pick one. Five chicks from this nest had flown off. Two more pairs are singing and building nest in the garden now.
I don’t know where the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris) nest but they are repeat annual visitors and we seem to have more of them every year. It’s fun to watch them doing their courting ritual; flying back and forth sideways like a pendulum- and when they take their dinner at dusk. Delicate and beautiful little birds that they are.
Rose-breasted Grosbeaks (Pheucticus ludovicianus) also stopped by to refuel this spring as usual before flying further north. They have a very distinctive and lovely song. I wish they would nest with us instead of just commuting through.
Yes, woodpeckers eats oranges along with a variety of things. They even eat small lizards upon occasion, though there are no lizards here. We were surprised to see one eating oranges we had put out a few years ago. The oranges were intended for the Baltimore Orioles and Gray Catbird but the orioles have never come down for it. We thought that only one particular Red-bellied was eating them, but more than one stops in regularly when they have active nests in the area.
They would eat for a while and at the end they would gather pulp, keep it between their beaks, and fly off, we presume for nesting youngsters.
There are some more avians around the garden this spring. The common ones like American Goldfinch, House Finch, American Tree Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, Blue Jay, Red-winged Blackbird, Downey Woodpecker, Chickadee, Titmouse, Northern Cardinal….and with them around we don’t need pesticide. The down side is we see less butterflies due to caterpillars being invited to lunch, so to speak, but our garden is never without someone serenading somewhere in the premises.
I checked on our vegetable garden early last week and was happy to see the garlic I put in last October came up. The Daffodils and tulips have also pushed themselves above the soil. But Mother Nature doesn’t seem to give up on winter just yet, she dumped a whole load of snow on us again last Friday. The storm ‘Saturn’, with just a winter storm advisory, has dropped around 10 inches of snow over night. The vegetables and flowers, were fooled by a few days of warm daytime temperature, have disappeared under the snow again.
Our avian friends who have started to claim territory and housing were force to make a truce between them. Yes, they will have to eat together at a few feeders we put up for them in winter since snow has covered everything else. With snow still falling, they patiently wait their turn at the feeders. Here are some of them….
Our Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) population has increased this year. I think they are programmed to come back here since we provide so much food for them. I mentioned on a previous blog that I grow Columbine for Hummingbirds and the variety of columbine has increased as well. I had added Pineapple sage (Salvia elegans), Bee balm (Monarda didyma), and Scarlet runner bean (Phaseolus coccineus) to other plants I grow before I realized there are hummingbirds in this area. Butterfly bush (Buddleiadaviddi) and a variety of Phlox (both woodland and garden) that I grow for their fragrance and the butterflies also help to draw the birds in.
I put the hummingbird feeders out as soon as the columbine started to bloom. I have to put them far apart since the birds are very possessive about their feeder. Even after they’re done with the sugar water, they still keep their eyes on the juice and chase the interlopers out. For the first time this year I’ve seen two of them drink from the same feeder. I’m envious when I see photographs of many hummingbirds feeding from the same feeder or feeding from a person’s hands. I guess they put up with one another when they migrate and take what they can before taking off to their final destination. Northeastern US is their breeding ground, so they get very territorial.
They are also friendly enough to let me get close this year, only the females though. The males are still elusive. I hope I can get some photos of the males before they migrate back down south.
We have two Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor) families nest in our garden this year, one in the back yard and one in the front. The family in the back has three chicks, four chicks are in the front. So, we have the sky covered for insect patrol this year. Once a swallow family has success in rearing their young, they will be back to nest at the same place year after year. The pair in the backyard has been nesting in our garden for the past three years. I think the front pair is related.
We are very happy that we didn’t miss the young swallows fledging. What’s fascinating about them is they don’t just fly and hop, they glide. Swallows usually fly high up in the sky, maneuvering sharply, but the juveniles will glide a lot (perhaps to rest new wing muscles), much lower and between the trees as well. I think they practice maneuvering at slow speeds. If they don’t hit the branches, they will be fine in the sky. They can do slow gliding that resembles a hang-glider or very fast like a fighter jet.
Three chicks from the back yard were practicing their flight skills today. They can be noisy with that unique gargling song they sing, but the aerial slalom is really a high speed ballet that can keep you captivated and at times, take your breathe away.
The front chicks are too young to try. Give them another week and we’ll need an air traffic controller.
There was an aerial show over our garden this morning. It was like six mini-fighter jets doing an air show. Sleek white and metallic blue bodies swooping back and forth chasing one another at high speed, too fast to catch on video. Once in a while one of them would swoop to block the entrance of the nest box. I suspect that’s a male Tree Swallow from last year defending his home and his territory. Let the photos tell the story.
After a day of fierce fighting for new home between the Eastern Bluebirds and the Tree Swallows, they both finally settled on a place to raise their kids. The Swallows took the same old house that they have been nesting in for the last couple of summers. The Bluebirds settled on the house by the vegetable garden. To my relief, of course. They are less vicious than the Swallows when it comes to defending their nest from humans. The most they would do is fly up to the tree and scream their lungs out at intruders. The swallows, on the other hand, would dive bomb my head incessantly until I left the garden and them alone. While trimming the rose bushes on the stepladder today, the swallows were chasing each other back and forth and fighting among themselves for real estate, coming so close that a couple of times they nearly knocked me off the stepladder.
For Eastern Bluebirds, the female builds the nest while the male keeps his eyes on intruders. She has been busy taking building materials in to the box. Countless trips. Once in a while she stops to preen a bit.
The Swallows are still fighting among themselves. I guess the kids want to nest in the house that they grew up in, but the parents chase them out.
Our job now is to make sure that the House Sparrows won’t ruin it for them.