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.

 

 

Bluebirds, First Brood

They Have Fledged

It was very windy and a little cold last Monday, felt almost like a cold front was coming in.  I limp along in the garden due to a golf ball sized bruise swelling on my right shin. Why?  Tripped on a cement block in the garden while looking up when I should have been looking down.  Despite the wind, it was a very nice day.  It was sunny and staying inside to nurse my shin would have been a waste of a perfect day.  I dug up, replanted and pruned plants in the garden and whatever needed to be done without heavy lifting.  In the middle of all these tasks, I heard the Bluebirds call too many times above my head.  I realized that the parents were encouraging a baby to fly by calling it from different branches.  I looked up and found one of the chicks perched quietly on a birch branch near by.  He flew from branch to branch following the calls.

The peacefulness turned frantic when a Blue Jay showed up.  Both parents bombarded the Jay nonstop until it gave up and flew away.  Interestingly, the parents ignored a Gray Catbird completely even when it got within a few inches of the chick.  They chased off the Blue Jays, Grackles and House Sparrows.

About this time, another chick poked his face out from the nest box and I realized there probably was one or more chicks still in there.  I waited until the parents were busy leading the lone chick to safety to open up the nest box and snap some photos.  This is when I love my iPhone the best, fast and easy to snap an image in a nest.

The chicks have all hit the road now.  But I’m happy to help increase the local population of Eastern Bluebirds.  I’ve been hearing their calls again and have seen four other Bluebirds snooping around the Tree Swallow house.  Hopefully they will rear another brood in the garden this year.

A young Bluebird learns to fly
A young Bluebird learns to fly
The last of the brood, though he took off later that afternoon
The last of the brood, though he took off later that afternoon
One of the parents, the male I guess, keeping an eye on the fledging chick
One of the parents, the male I guess, keeping an eye on the fledging chick

The Tree Swallow family by the vegetable garden added one more egg to the nest, five in total. But this morning I found the evidence that someone had raided their nest (the white down and some grass straw were on the ground) but the female was still in the nest when I checked.  I’ll know more when I’m able to check on them this weekend.

Last check on the Swallow nest revealed five eggs
Last check on the Swallow nest revealed five eggs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 Is Around The Corner

Taking A Clue From Birds

There has been one snow storm after another and the official spring date is still more than a month away.  Our garden is covered a foot deep in snow crusted with ice.  The cold frame we put up last fall has become an igloo at this point. I have no idea what has happened in there since I can’t have access without digging my way in through snow.  I’ve left the honey bees alone.  The only sign that there are live bees in the hives is the fresh dead bees I found on top of the snow around the garden.

Our walkway
Our walkway
A pretty good looking dead bee  on top of snow
A pretty good looking dead bee on top of snow

It was very sunny and no wind today so I braved a low 30º F, in my knee-high boots, to stomp around inspecting the garden.  As much snow as there is on the ground, there are many signs that spring is not too far away.  I always see the arrival of American Robins (Turdus migratorius) as an indication that spring will be here soon enough.  Today was the second time I’ve seen a large flock of Robins come around.

Slightly disheveled looking Robin in a tree top
Slightly disheveled looking Robin in a tree top

Aside from Robins, the male Northern Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) no longer keep to their truce.  They seem to keep close to their female companions now and chase other full grown males around the yard.  The Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) are also looking for nesting spots now and no longer just coming to the garden for food.

A male Cardinal staying close to the female
A male Cardinal staying close to the female
A flock of Eastern Bluebirds at one of the feeders
A flock of Eastern Bluebirds at one of the feeders

The American Goldfinches (Carduelis tristis) are starting to shed their winter coats.  There are little bits of yellow tipped grey down here and there on the snow, and the birds are beginning to show spring colors in bright yellow blotches.

American Goldfinch starting to show a bright yellow color
American Goldfinch starting to show a bright yellow color
A Pileated Woodpecker also joined the garden party today
A Pileated Woodpecker also joined the garden party today

With a lineage that stretches all the way back to the dinosaurs, I figure the birds know better than I.

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.

Hope they settle down soon

Tree Swallow vs Eastern Bluebird

The usual visitors to our garden in the past few years just came back…the Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor).  We heard their unique gargle-like chirp up in the sky a few days ago.  Four of them.  Yesterday they were chased off by the Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis) couple that have been checking the bird houses in our garden.  They have narrowed it down to two favorites, but haven’t settled yet.  So, anytime any birds get on one of the houses they like, they will swoop down and chase them off.  This applies to the Tree Swallows as well.

A swallow stretching on the house at the vegetable garden.

The Swallows came back to their same old house that they have been nesting in for the last few years.  I think this time they came back with their kids since they seemed to be interested in two houses.  They happen to be the two houses that the Bluebirds like.  But the Bluebirds arrived first, so there is some territorial dispute between them.  Now what?

We love them both.  One is metallic blue, one is sky blue.  One eats insects high up in the sky, one catches bugs lower and on the ground.  If one  were House Sparrows, life would be simpler as we have no problem raiding their houses.  They are about the only bird not wanted.  I just have one little reservation about the Swallows nesting in the box in the vegetable garden.  I would have a tough time tending our vegetables if they did.  They dive bomb me every time I get too close to their house after they have laid eggs.

A Male Bluebird blocks the old Swallow house

I hope they settle down soon so I can start counting how many families we’ll raise this year.  Just a little sense of accomplishment and great joy to know that we helped raise a few generations of some of the more embattled and beautiful indigenous bird families.  Nothing like watching them building their nest, laying their eggs, raising their young and their young learning to fly.  We are happy to see more and more of the ones that live with us year round like the Northern Cardinal, woodpeckers and Chickadees.  It’s nice to see the migrating families come back every year and to watch the brood expand with each spring.

They Came Back Early.

Bluebird, House Hunting

It has been a very warm winter this year.   Many birds that migrate south during winter had delayed their journey.  I saw a Gray Catbird a few times this winter, trying to get some dried fruits from the feeder.  I hope it survive the winter since it was a little late to travel south.

The flock of Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis) and a pair Carolina Wren (Thryothrus ludovicianus) came to stay with us during the winter  as usual.  With them around, along with the resident birds like Northern Cardinal, Tufted titmouse, American Goldfinch, House Finch, and various types of woodpeckers and sparrows, makes winter much more bearable.  Not much else this winter.  I guess the warm weather makes it easier for them to get food on their own.

A male Eastern Bluebird checking out the neighborhood.

I was surprised to see a few Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) a few weeks ago.  Five of them to be exact.  They have checked one nest box after another.  After a few days, only one pair of them decided to hang around.  They still come and check on their favorite house every morning.  I hope they build their nest before the Tree Swallows come back from down south.  A pair of Tree Swallows have been raising their family in one of the nest boxes in the last couple of years.  The younger generation seemed to like the house that the Bluebirds like.  They perched and preened on the house everyday until they migrated.  I don’t want to see a fight between my two favorites.

Our job now is to keep our eyes on the House Sparrows (Passer domesticus) to make sure that they won’t build a nest in the box or kick and poke on the Bluebird eggs.  We declared war on them last year when they destroyed one of the Bluebird family nests.  So far I’m not sure who’s winning.  But I’m not giving up.

Mourning the Bluebirds

Our hope is diminished

A second family of Bluebirds came to check on a nest box at the corner of the vegetable garden a few weeks ago.  Then they decided to build a nest.  We were so happy that this year we will have two Bluebird families raising their chicks in our garden. I kept  my eye on them whenever I could to make sure that the House Sparrow didn’t take over the nest box.  I saw her diligently bringing in nesting material while he kept his eyes on the predators and menace.  Both of them helped to pick off insects in the vegetable garden when they’re not busy with nest building.

He keeps an eye on the nest and garden.

I was outside watering the vegetable garden this morning when I saw a little blue egg on the ground under the nest box, cracked open. My heart sunk.  My first thought was the House Wren’s work since they are nesting in a box near by.  But the Wren wouldn’t take the eggs off a nest; they would have just poked a hole in it. Unlikely though since they have already built a nest and layed eggs.  Then I saw the monster on top of the tool shed, a male House Sparrow.

I understand now why many Bluebird lovers suggest killing the House Sparrows, especially the males.  I caught two male House Sparrows earlier this spring and Bill drove them miles away from home and released them.  They are a complete pest: eating only from your bird feeder, stealing nests from other birds, picking off your seedlings and flower buds, and on top of that they don’t sing.  As much as I like to be rid of them permanently, killing them is not our preferred option.  Until this morning.

She's building a new home.

 

He was up there chirping (not singing), claiming his territory.  He came down to the nest box as soon as I left the vegetable garden, checking the roof and inside the box.  That was it.  My peaceful morning is ruined.  We have to figure out how to get rid of him.  Preventing him from nesting in the box is easy, just keep checking the box and remove the nest.  But getting rid of him completely from the garden so he won’t be a menace to other small birds is a totally different matter.  I was lucky in catching two of them when they chased a Tree Swallow and a House Wren off nest boxes.

This is the damage the House Sparrow has done.

Bill told me he hasn’t seen the Bluebirds since this morning.  We just hope that they are fine and didn’t give up hope to nest in our garden.  Bill removed the Bluebird box in the front yard since the chicks have already fledged and cleaned it up.  We will put a clean house back on the post tomorrow, to give them an alternative nest box.   Hopefully, they will find it appealing enough to start over in a new box. Until then we are in mourning.

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