Firecracker babies

As the pressure of population increasingly regiments us and crowds us closer together, an association with the wild, winged freedom of the birds will fill an ever growing need in our lives.
– Edwin Way Teale, introduction to Songbirds in Your Garden, 1953

 

IMG_7418 copyWe took a short trip to Prosper, TX,  for the Fourth of July weekend.  I expected the eggs to hatch around 07 July.  But when I checked the box after arriving home on the Fourth, I found two newly hatched chicks and one  little blue egg.   I checked a few minutes later and the remaining chick had hatched and Mama had eaten the eggshell.  Female bluebirds eat the eggshells to replenish depleted calcium levels in their bodies.

Recently a raccoon has been raiding the yard at night, tearing up bird feeders and opening the birdseed storage barrel.  Not one to underestimate the persistence and ingenuity of a raccoon, I worried that when the eggs hatched the chicks would be a midnight snack for this 27387253134_f238d910cf_omarauder.  A little peanut butter in a live trap and Rocky was soon in raccoon jail.  He was not a happy camper, tried to bite and urinate on his jailer.  Terms of his release were that he move to a neighborhood with no human neighbors.  Up until his release, Rocky claimed he was ‘entrapped’.  Some FeBreze was required post release. The things I do for these bluebirds!

It’s hot now and heat is a killer of bluebird eggs and babies.  I have the box located so that by early afternoon it is in the shade of a live oak tree.  The Sparrow Spooker is attached and we are ready to rear these babies.  Most of the time our babies fledge on the 17th day.  That means these should hop out into the big wide world on 21 July.  Hopefully this will happen with no drama.

Total chicks fledged from this site is 67.

Third Brood 2016

  • First sign of nest building                                                15 June
  • Three eggs                                                                             21 June
  • Three eggs hatch                                                                 04 July
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First brood fledges …

Because the bluebird is beautiful and readily accepts the help of humans, and, because people love to nurture beautiful animals, especially those that are endearing, a strong natural bond is forged between man and the bluebird at the nest box. In many cases, that relationship not only lasts a lifetime but also grows into a greater awareness of the plight of all wild animals and the plant kingdom on which all animals depend.
– Gary Springer, NABS Director, 2005

bluebirds 103

I  mentioned the babies have been peering out of the box lately.  This is a sign they are about to fledge.  Normally they fledge in the morning, but last night I heard a bluebird calling loudly.  Went to the kitchen door and one of the babies was perched off the patio in a Japanese maple.  I saw one other on the ground under a Chaste tree.  I had no way of knowing how many were still in the box.  I could see a head bob up now and then, but no clue of how many were left inside.

I  invited a photography buddy to come over early this morning in hopes to get some fledging shots.  Turned out that only one chick was left in the box.  It took him an hour to get the nerve to jump.  He got his feet up on the edge of the hole several times, but would chicken out and jump back inside.  This went on for quite some time when a colorful male goldfinch landed nearby.  Both cameras were clicking away when I heard the bluebirds fussing and the chick was in the air.

As usual, the parents have them down on the creek in some 80-foot pecan trees.  I bluebirds 008suspect in a week or so when the chicks can fly better, they will visit the back yard.  It’s always gratifying to fledge a brood.  I worry about their survival, but I’ve done my part as a bluebird host and it’s now up to the adults’ good parenting and just plain ole luck.  Most species have adapted a reproductive process that assures their persistence.  Those species that produce many young tend to have high mortality rates in their offspring.  Within a month, these chicks will be pretty much self-sufficient although they will follow Daddy around for some time learning survival skills and the best places to bug.

bluebirds 065

Total chicks fledged from this site is 76.

First brood 2017

  • First sign of nest building                                               11 March
  • Nest completed                                                                  18 March
  • First egg                                                                               21  March
  • Second egg                                                                          22 March
  • Third egg                                                                             23 March
  • Fourth egg                                                                          24 March
  • Fifth egg                                                                              25 March
  • Sixth egg                                                                             26 March
  • Incubation began                                                             27 March
  • Two eggs hatch                                                                 08 April
  • Remaining four eggs hatch                                            09  April
  • Five chicks fledge                                                             24 April
  • Sixth chick hatches                                                          25 April

 

 

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First eggs hatch

As long as there are bluebirds, there will be miracles and a way to find happiness.
– Shirl Brunnel, I Hear Bluebirds, 1984

bluebird babies 052 copyI calculated Mama’s first of season eggs would hatch on 09 April, but a couple of little chicks couldn’t wait to get out.  Mama has been spending a lot of time in the box incubating.  I went out on the patio yesterday afternoon and saw her come in with a bug so tiny I could hardly see it and enter the box.  This could only mean one thing.  I opened the box and two wobbly little heads popped up with mouths wide open.

We are headed to Fayetville to visit with grandson Greyson this morning and on to Branson for a few days, so won’t be around much for a week.  The bluebirds don’t need my help until then anyway.  They instinctively match the size of bugs they catch to the size of the chicks.  They are too little right now for me to supplement live mealworms.  I’m sure the parents will miss their mealworm breakfasts, though.  The other morning I was standing in the kitchen with a cup of coffee peering out the door that is covered with plantation shutters.   Daddy III, who has only been with us since last July, saw me and flew under the covered patio, hovering and chortling in front of me.  He now speaks and wing-waves to me when he is perched in the back yard.  Bluebirds are just such sociable birds!  We have a number of birds around the house, but none show any signs of a relationship other than the bluebirds.

Our backyard bluebird babies typically fledge in 17-18 days.  That would mean thisbluebirds 024 brood will exit into the world on or about 25 April.  They will signal their intentions with a lot of peering out of the box, gradually getting bolder.  It’s going to get crowded in the box with six young ones.  Looking forward to our trip, but also getting back to enjoy and protect the bluebirds.  May the bluebird of happiness visit your house!

First brood 2017

  • First sign of nest building                                               11 March
  • Nest completed                                                                  18 March
  • First egg                                                                                21  March
  • Second egg                                                                           22 March
  • Third egg                                                                              23 March
  • Fourth egg                                                                           24 March
  • Fifth egg                                                                               25 March
  • Sixth egg                                                                              26 March
  • Incubation began                                                              27 March
  • Two eggs hatch                                                                  08 March
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It’s gonna be a big family …

A man who never sees a bluebird only half lives.   – Lewis Gannett

bluebirds 008 copy.jpgMama III has been a busy little bluebird.  She has increased her first clutch of the year to six little blue eggs.  That is a big bluebird family.  I have a neighbor who has seven in his box.  Likely his birds are offspring from here.  Mama began incubation on 27 March, so if we use 13 days of incubation, the hatch should be around 09 April.  Looking forward to the big day!

A brood this large will challenge the parents to provide enough food, ferry away fecal sacs and bluebirds 024protect the nest.  I’ll provide live mealworms so the parents won’t have to work so hard and don’t have to be away from the nest for long periods.  I’ve raised mealworms before and may again, at least until the summer gets hot and we migrate to Colorado.  The North American Bluebird Society has an excellent fact sheet that provides a lot of info on mealworms. North American Bluebird Society.  A good source to order mealworms in bulk is Rainbow Mealworms.

I’ll order some mealworms today so we will have a good supply on hand when the babies hatch.  I’ll get a few extra for my neighbor Ken.  When the babies first hatch, they can’t eat the mealworms yet, but the parents can.  I always see the adult birds bringing lots of small spiders to the newly hatched bluebirds.

Total chicks fledged from this site is 70.

First brood 2017

  • First sign of nest building                                               11 March
  • Nest completed                                                                  18 March
  • First egg                                                                                21  March
  • Second egg                                                                           22 March
  • Third egg                                                                              23 March
  • Fourth egg                                                                           24 March
  • Fifth egg                                                                               25 March
  • Sixth egg                                                                              26 March
  • Incubation began                                                              27 March
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Five little blue eggs …

bluebirds 012 copyOn a cold, windy, rainy Spring morning Mama laid her fifth little blue egg.  She is not incubating yet, so maybe she is not finished with this clutch.  I’ve only had six eggs once before.  Five babies fill the box to capacity as they grow and are a chore for the adults to rear, although food is not a problem as I supplement live mealworms for the chicks.  I suspect tomorrow morning will tell the tale.  Most likely Mama will begin incubation.   Then we just sit and wait for them to hatch.

Daddy III will most likely bring her some bugs while she is in the box  on eggs.  This is the first brood he has sired here, so he is a new father.  He does have some experience feeding and caring for babies after he became a surrogate daddy after Daddy II’s death last July.  Watched him take a few sunflower seeds from the tray feeder this morning, something the bluebirds seldom do.

A little Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis)  taxonomic history:   Sialia is the Latinized, neuter plural version of the Greek word sialis, a noun meaning a “kind of bird.” The Eastern Bluebird was the first bluebird classified by Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778), so he gave it the species name sialis. He placed it in the genus Motocilia, which is now reserved for the wagtails. In 1827, William Swainson decided that the bluebirds needed a genus of their own within the thrush family (Turdidae). He selected the generic name Sialia which he simply adapted from the species name sialis that Linnaeus had used. Therefore, the scientific name for the Eastern Bluebird is Sialia sialis (pronounced see-ahl’-ee-ah see’-ahliss). The Western Bluebird and Mountain Bluebird, the two other species within the genus, were named Sialia mexicana and Sialia currucoides (coo-roo-coydees) respectively.

Photo of the nestbox with a Sparrow Spooker and baffle installed.  Baffles keep snakes from climbing into the box.  They have an uncanny ability to locate baby birds.

bluebirds 014

Total chicks fledged from this site is 70.

First brood 2017

  • First sign of nest building                                               11 March
  • Nest completed                                                                  18 March
  • First egg                                                                                21  March
  • Second egg                                                                           22 March
  • Third egg                                                                              23 March
  • Fourth egg                                                                           24 March
  • Fifth egg                                                                               25 March
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First little blue egg …

bluebird egg 001 copyYesterday we celebrated our first little blue egg of the season!  It’s cool this morning, so possibility Mama III might not lay another today.  Bluebirds can lay an egg per day, but it’s not unusual for them to skip a day, especially in poor weather.  I moved the box so that it is now in afternoon shade and will put the Sparrow Spooker on today.  It’s a device that attaches over the box with waving mylar strips that keeps sparrows away.  Once the bluebirds have an egg in the box, Mama’s maternal instincts will be stronger than her fear of the spooker.  House sparrows will destroy bluebird eggs or kill babies to nest in the box.  It’s incumbent on bluebird hosts that lure birds near their homes to protect them from marauding HOSP’s.

It will take Mama 5-7 days to lay her complete clutch of eggs and incubation will take 12-thunderbird 00614 days.  She won’t start (Photo is Daddy staking a claim on the back yard) incubation until all the eggs are laid.  The first brood of the year is generally the easiest.  The parents are rested and have strong instincts to fledge babies.  As the summer temperature rises, heat can addle the eggs or kill chicks.  That is why I have my box rigged up so that it is easy to move (even with eggs or chicks inside) to keep it in the afternoon shade as the sun marches north to the Summer Equinox and back south again. We are looking forward to another productive season for the bluebirds on the reddirt hill.

Total chicks fledged from this site is 70.

First brood 2017

  • First sign of nest building                                                 11 March
  • Nest completed                                                                   18 March
  • First egg                                                                                21  March
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Spring on the reddirt hill

IMG_4346 ldThe astronomical calendar of  heavenly bodies shows the Spring Equinox will occur on March 20 at 5:29 a.m. CDT.  Most people consider this the beginning  of Spring.  The politicians have us moving our clocks forward tonight and some regard that as the first day of Spring.  But, on the reddirt hill we know Spring is here when Mama Bluebird brings her first mouthful of grass to the nestbox.  That happened this morning.  The season of renewal has officially begun.

Last year Mama began her first nest of the season on March 2.  She normally starts nesting on a bright sunshine-filled day, but today is gray and dreary.  For some reason the alarm on the biological clock in her little body rang this morning.

It will take about a week for her to build a cup-shaped nest and line it with fine grass.  After that it won’t be long until the first little blue egg will appear. Another week will go by before her clutch of eggs is laid. Then incubation will begin.

Recall that Daddy III has not been with us too long and this may be the first brood he yardbirds 001has sired.  Last July with three chicks in the box, Daddy II was killed by a roadrunner.  Within days this male was following Mama and jumped right into the role of providing bugs for the babies and ferrying away fecal sacs. Photo is a recent one of Daddy III, he’s prime right now and so is Mama.  A season of raising babies takes a visible toll on the bluebirds, especially the females.  By August, Mama will be worn and thin.  Ready for some time off.  The last brood of three from 2016 followed the parents around most of the winter, but I haven’t seen them lately.  Daddy wouldn’t allow the males around now that breeding season is here.  Male bluebirds are territorial and generally speaking won’t allow another nest within about 100 yards of theirs.

The 2017 breeding season has begun, so we will be making regular entries into our diary.  Note that you can subscribe to be notified of new entries.


 

 

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Mid-winter report

thunderbird-005I haven’t reported on the bluebirds since September, so thought I would post an update.  The adults still visit the nestbox daily in winter.  I have some feeders in back and the birds seem to come to them in waves.  When the bluebirds see a lot of other birds near their nestbox, they seem to show up.  Just to make sure no one is trying to move in on their property.

Several times recently I’ve seen five bluebirds flying around over the reddirt hill out back.  I can’t help but think it is the last brood of summer still following Mama and Daddy.  Good to think all have survived in the wild this long.  There are plenty of dangers around.  A Cooper’s hawk has been doing daily flyovers along with the resident sharpshin.  Photo of the Cooper’s on a hapless dove.

Cooper's hawk

We have a couple of feeding stations set up in the Cross Timbers east of Norman and coffee-with-a-cop-005spend a lot of mornings out there enjoying winter birds that we don’t get here at the house.  Check out the flickr album I’m keeping on winter birds https://www.flickr.com/photos/reddirtpics/albums/72157675247417882

We are heading to South Padre Island soon, so won’t report on the bluebirds until March when we return to Oklahoma.

Our beautiful world, pass it on.

 

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