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!
One of my fellow bloggers asked me recently how the Bluebirds fared this season. A light bulb went on in my head how about a recap’ of this past breeding season? The Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) have done quite well. To our surprise, they have raised three broods this season however the broods may not be of the same pair. I know one pair has raised two broods since their chicks were allowed to hangout by their new nest box when they started the second brood. But the third which nested in the front yard nest box later in the season didn’t have any chicks around.
Below is my progressive observations of the second brood.
In the years past, we have only observed Bluebirds raising one or two broods at the most. Then to our surprise & excitement, we discovered a third brood in the front yard. I have seen the Bluebirds on this nest box a few times but have also seen House sparrows (Passer domesticus) on it too. The vicious House sparrows zoom into their nests, peck & break their eggs & will not let them have any peace. However when we tried to trim the hedge by the nest box, the Bluebirds wouldn’t leave the area so we checked the box. Bravo! What a pleasant surprise and hedge trimming was immediately suspended.
I don’t know how many of the chicks from these three broods have survived to adulthood. What I do know is that we hear more of their calling in the air, around the yard, than years ago. They come to the feeders and baths year ’round. They also look for places to roost in our garden in winter.
We have not yet had a heavy snow. We will see more of them once the ground is covered with snow and the lake is frozen over. I think they decided to stick around in winter because we have food, heated bath and warm places to stay. We pretty much rolled the red carpet out for our avian friends. The only exception is House Sparrows….for this bunch, it’s war.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.