First Family Of The Season

Eastern Bluebird

The weather is still too cold for spring.  Night time temperature a little bit above the freezing point most nights.  Making matters worse, we had an ice storm four days ago.  The birds, on the other hand, seem to know better since they have started to shed their winter down.  This is the time of year I see a lot of fine feathers blowing in the garden or floating in the birdbaths.    The male American Goldfinches have almost completely turned bright yellow by now, their summer color.

Most of our birds have just started to claim territory and are checking available nest boxes.  Some have already paired up with  mates.  The Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis), on the other hand, has already laid eggs.  I thought they had only built their nest since it’s still very cold.  I always monitor our nest boxes in the garden to make sure that there are no House Sparrows (Passer domesticus) nesting there.  Once I saw the female Bluebird leave the nest box, I had to take a peek.

A surprise!

Four little blue eggs
Four little blue eggs

They never left us this past winter anyway.  I think they probably felt comfortable here with food, water and roosting box to take shelter in during winter.  And, plenty of food in spring and summer.

Mom keeps her eggs warm and keeps watch for intruders
Mom keeps her eggs warm and keeps watch for intruders
Dad checking the feeder. He has a full-time job keeping the House Sparrows away from his family
Dad checking the feeder. He has a full-time job keeping the House Sparrows away from his family

I hope they will have two broods this year since they’ve started the first one early.  There really is no such thing as too many Bluebirds.

Empty Nests

Time to Clean Up

We’ve been doing pretty well with the birds this year. So far we have hosted a few families – three House Wren, three Tree Swallow, and one Eastern Bluebird.  These are just the ones that used the nest boxes we put up in the garden.  The first Wren family has already fledged.  There were five chicks, but only four of them made it.  The second and third are still feeding their chicks, three in each nest.  Chicks from two Tree Swallow families had fledged few of weeks ago, four in the front yard and three in the back yard.  The chicks from the back yard were the ones who conducted their flight training over the garden.  The third Swallow family’s chicks, three of them, just hatched recently, although I think it’s a little late for the swallow.  I hope the chicks will be strong enough to migrate south in late summer.

A family of Eastern Bluebirds had settled in the old Swallow house after they were chased from their original choice by a House Sparrow.  They successfully raised three chicks.  They might start a second brood since we still hear the male calling from high up in a tree.  It would be really great if they do.  They are incredibly beautiful birds to watch.

But now it’s time to clean up.  I waited until the chicks were no longer coming back to roost in the nest boxes before I removed them for cleaning.  It dawned on me when I opened nest boxes, one after another, that this is probably how the phrase “Empty Nest” came to be; when the kids are grown up and have left to live their lives.  It was a sad moment but satisfying at the same time.  I’ll put the clean nest boxes back up after they have dried so the birds that want to start a second brood will have a chance to do so.

I’ve been keeping track of who nests where, so it’s a good thing to recognize the nest construction technique of each bird.  I am always fascinated by the Tree Swallow’s nest.  They line their nest with feathers, mostly white ones on top of a woven grass platform.  The images below are a little bit yucky since a few chicks were in there previously.  I think they are pretty interesting though, to see how different birds build their nests.

Lined with white feathers for comfort. The older pair seemed to know how to do it better.
Nest of the younger pair in the front. Less feathers, more mess.
Just to compare skill sets; experience on the left, youth on the right.
Eastern Bluebirds weave with fine grass and pine needles.