Tree Swallows

Back From The South

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.

Swallow checking a prospective nest box
Swallow checking a prospective nest box
The female Bluebird says otherwise
The female Bluebird says otherwise

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.

So they settled for the one by the vegetable garden
So they settled for the one by the vegetable garden

It doesn’t really matter which pair they are; they are all welcome.

 

First To Nest

Tree Swallow

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.

Welcome home kids.

Choosing nest materials
Choosing nest materials
Brought it to her new home
Brought it to her new home
It's a little too long to get it in.
It’s a little too long to get it in.
Now what? Must be a way to get this stick in.
Now what? Must be a way to get this stick in.
Finally!
Finally!

Bird Colony – Choice Avian Real Estate

Two Tree Swallow Nests

Eggs of the Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor) by the vegetable garden have hatched, all five of them.   Mom and dad are busy catching insects for the chicks.  They are not bothered by me working in the vegetable garden now.   I think they have learned from last year that I didn’t harm their kids so they let me walk near by without dive bombing me like last year.  This makes it easier for me to weed and pick vegetables in the garden right underneath the nest.

All five of the Swallow chicks look pretty cozy in the nest
All five of the Swallow chicks look pretty cozy in the nest

The second Tree Swallow family nesting a mere fifty feet away also have five eggs.  This family still gets nervous when I get too close to the nest.  She will fly out of the box and perch on a branch above, watching me.  When I get too close they take turns dive bombing me.  I hope they’ll be friendlier next year.

Five swallow eggs on feathers and down in the second nest
Five swallow eggs on feathers and down in the second nest

I put a new nest box up in the garden to lure the Bluebirds in for their second brood but it seems like a third Swallow pair wants to nest there instead.  We are building up a colony of Tree Swallows here and I don’t mind at all.  They are prodigious insect eaters and fun to watch swooping, soaring and gliding in the sky.

A surprise family of Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis) is nesting so low in the Rhododendron and very close to the front door railing.  They usually nest higher up in the shrubs or in the thickest of the Forsythia.  Last year we severely trimmed the forsythia reducing their nesting real estate.  There are three turquoise blue eggs in there.  I have to leave the front walkway alone until their chicks fledge.

Turquoise blue eggs of Gray Catbird
Turquoise blue eggs of Gray Catbird

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Early Nesting

Old And New Tenants

It’s only the second week of May but five bird families have already settled down in our garden, as far as I can see.  Two pairs of Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) have decided to build their nests here: one has taken a nest box in the front yard and one at the corner of the vegetable garden.  The same spots they nested in last year, actually.  The Eastern Blue Birds (Sialia sialis) have also taken the same nest box as last year.  The American Robin (Turdus migratorius) has built their own nest in a Rhododendron.  We will have to wait for the chicks to fledge before we can prune the shrub.  We can see the female sitting on her eggs from the bay window.  The Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) took one of the nest boxes in the front.  The Chickadees seem to move around the garden very year.  The Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica) have been checking our patio ceiling for a perfect spot, but we try our best to discourage them.  Our experience with the Robins nested there one year, wasn’t pleasant.  Those are the ones whose nests I can see.

We have plenty of American Goldfinches (Carduelis trisis) who stay with us year round.  Most of the males have already shed their winter coats.  The Northern Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) are still courting and claiming territory.  We also have more visitors from the North, Pine Siskin (Carduelis pinus), this year.  Not counting the other residents like three or four different kinds of sparrows and woodpeckers, our garden needs air traffic control.

This year we also have an infrequent visitor, Eastern Towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus).  They come around once in a while.  At this moment I ‘m waiting for the Columbine to bloom so I can put the Hummingbird feeders up to welcome the Ruby-throated hummingbirds back from Central America.

Tree Swallows by the vegetable garden.
Tree Swallows by the vegetable garden.
This male Gold finch still has some grey color left over from winter.
This male Gold finch still has some grey color left over from winter.
A male Cardinal perched but still keeping an eye on the feeder.
A male Cardinal perched but still keeping an eye on the feeder.
Eastern towhees have been visiting the ground below one of the feeder this year.
Eastern towhees have been visiting the ground below one of the feeder this year.

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.

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.

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