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.

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.

 

 

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.

First Family of the Year

Eastern Bluebirds Have Settled

However bad this last winter was, the Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia Sialis) elected not to leave us for warmer digs down south.  Maybe because we provided everything they needed here: food, water and places to roost inside from the cold wind and snow.  This last winter was the first time that they were really present on an almost daily basis.  Once the weather started to get warmer, they started to seriously look for a place to nest.  From an initial flock, there are only four left now.  They have made their territorial claims.  I don’t know whether the pair that is nesting in one of the nest boxes now is the same pair that nested in there last year.  I was unable to find any information on whether they try to nest at the same place every year as the Tree Swallows do.

Last Sunday, Easter Sunday, I spent all day in the garden.  Aside from doing the usual garden chores I also checked on the new residents.  Who’s just come back, who’s nesting where and also monitoring the House Sparrows (Passer domesticus) at the nest boxes.  The American Robin (Turdus migratorius) is still battling his image in the bay window on a daily basis.  A female Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) is building her nest in the front Azalea.  Two pairs of Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) are taking up residence in two of the nest boxes, one of which is the same as last year.

In the end, to my surprise, I found my favorite Easter eggs.  A pair of Eastern Bluebirds have laid four beautiful blue eggs.  I hope it’s not too cold for them at night (still below 40ºF most night) for them to hatch.  I hope to see them start bringing food in for their young in a little over a week.  And then, start a second brood…

Soon to be a new Mom
Soon to be a new Mom
Soon to be a new Dad
Soon to be a new Dad
Four beautiful blue eggs. Image taken with an iPhone.
Four beautiful blue eggs. Image taken with an iPhone.
She's keeping them warm.
She’s keeping them warm.

Spring Recap On Birds

Residents And Visitors

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.

Male Bluebird with a worm waiting to feed his chicks.
Male Bluebird with a worm waiting to feed his chicks.
Female Bluebird just about to feed her chicks
Female Bluebird just about to feed her chicks

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.

A Gray Catbird tapping the oranges.
A Gray Catbird tapping the oranges.

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.

Tree Swallow keeps her eyes on me while I was working nearby and stayed put even when I was a couple feet away.
Tree Swallow keeps her eyes on me while I was working nearby and stayed put even when I was a couple feet away.

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.

American Robin picking a caterpillar for their young
American Robin picking a caterpillar for their young
With a young chick. Lunch 1st then flying lessons.
With a young chick. Lunch 1st then flying lessons.

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.

House Wren nest building in late May this year.
House Wren nest building in late May this year.

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.

A male Ruby-throated Hummingbird hovering over one of the feeder
A male Ruby-throated Hummingbird hovering over one of the feeder

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.

Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak munching on a seed
Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak munching on a seed

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.

A female Red-bellied woodpecker packing in some orange before taking some for her young
A female Red-bellied woodpecker packing in some orange before taking some for her young

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.

She packed her beak full of orange and returned to her nest (this photo is a VidCap)
She packed her beak full of orange and returned to her (this photo is a VidCap)

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.

Bluebird House Hunting

Looking For the Perfect Place

It’s that time of year again…a time to look for a perfect place to raise a new generation.  The birds that usually hang out together during winter start chasing one another, claiming their territory.  A few of them checking out the nest boxes we put up in the garden.  I cleaned them in mid-fall and put them back up for the birds to roost in winter, and I check them again around this time of year to see if any of them need to be cleaned again.  Some birds do make a mess in there when they use them as a roosting place.

The Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis), which never left us this winter, have been coming everyday to check the nest boxes.  They seem to be very serious about two of the boxes.  One box had a pair of Bluebirds nested in it last year, and a pair of Tree Swallows have nested in the other one.  I hope they make up their mind soon, especially if they want to take the one that the Tree Swallows used to nest in.

Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) are known to come back to the specific nesting place they used in the previous year.  We had two generations, three pairs of them nested in our garden last year.  And, yes, the older pair came back to the exact nest box they had used the year before.  They are pretty vicious in defending their nest so I hope the Bluebirds will build their nest before the Swallows come back.

We love both of them so we can’t really take sides.  With House Sparrows (Passer domesticus) and European Starrings (Sturnus vulgaris), we pretty much chase them away or clean them out if they have nested in one of the boxes.  I know it sounds mean spirited but they are pests and they kill other birds or break their eggs to get their nesting place.  They’re not indigenous to this area.

I would also like to increase our state bird population.  The Bluebird is the official New York state bird.  I acquired this knowledge a few years ago when I looked up Bluebird so I’m glad that we’ve hosted our state bird three years in a row…..and hope to continue the trend this year.

A male Bluebird checking one of his two favorites.
A male Bluebird checking one of his two favorites.
A female Downey Woodpecker checking a Bluebird feeder during the last snow storm.  The Downey and Carolina Wrens have learned how to feed in there.
A female Downey Woodpecker checking a Bluebird feeder during the last snow storm. The Downey and Carolina Wrens have learned how to feed in there.

Bluebird

Hope They will Winter With Us

We have been housing Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) in our garden for a few years now.  They arrive in early spring and check out birdhouses around the yard for nest-building and raising their chicks.  In years past they would be gone by mid-autumn, but they never left this year.  After their chicks fledged this year, they’ve been hanging around and foraging for food in the garden.  I thought they would be gone by now, but I still hear their call from high up in the trees.  Lately, they’ve been coming around inspecting birdhouses again…but for roosting.

Five of them came around today, checking out three houses in the garden.  It is interesting to me that so many birds are very territorial during mating season, then hang out together during fall and winter.  I guess it’s a self-preservation thing.  Anyway, five of them descended and spread out checking the birdhouses.  Once in a while they would stop to pick food off the lawn or take a bath.  Yes, aside from food, we provide hot baths for the birds in winter.

I hope they will stay with us this winter.  I usually remove some of the birdhouses in winter so the House Sparrows wouldn’t have a chance to roost in them.  Aside from putting them back up today, I also added a Bluebird feeder in the hope of making their lives easier if they decide to stay.

The Bluebird population was in decline at one point because they couldn’t compete with the House Sparrows, a non-native.  Just recently I read that their population has been increasing as birds lovers have started putting birdhouses up for them and intensely monitoring them.  We have successfully raised a few families, but we also lost two would-be baby Bluebirds to the Sparrows.

If the Bluebirds stay, I’ll have to declare war on the sparrows this winter.  There will be no half-truces like in past years.  ‘No quarter to be taken, aaarrhhh!’  I must remind myself not go out house-hunting sparrows in the middle of a sub-freezing night lest I accidentally roust a bluebird instead.

One of the Bluebird perching on the nest box.
One of the Bluebirds perching on the nest box.
Another member of the flock checking a different nest box.

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