They left the box!

That was our note from our reader friend Nancy who has been keeping The Squirrel Nutwork up-to-date on the Eastern Bluebird family in her yard. One day the fledglings were there and the next they weren’t.

vacated bluebird nest

You may have noticed in our last bluebird update that the fledglings had feathers and spots–it sure doesn’t take long to test those wings!

The bluebirds will not return to the nest once they have left, so Nancy removed the old nest material. Like many songbirds, the parents will nest again soon and raise a second brood before summer’s end.

Eastern Bluebird nest

They will collect grass again and rebuild–it seems the act of nest building is part of their whole courtship process, something squirrels don’t understand. Build a nest once and keep it repaired! That’s enough.

They would have built again right over the old nest, but that can put the eggs and nestlings too close to the hole–and the hands of hungry raccoons. If you’re keeping a box, please clean it out! Also, you might discourage House Sparrows from nesting  in it.

This aggressive, non-native bird loves a good nest box. And they don’t need them, their numbers are high enough already!

nest box with House Sparrow on top of it Nest box with House Sparrow in it

Thank you to all you human readers monitoring Bluebird Boxes! It’s more than putting them up!

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

As we said earlier this week, the bird feeders are seeing some action.

Mystery #152

Recognize this fellow? Give us a guess who he is in the comments.

I–your mystery host, Hickory–will check back later!


We had a correct guess today! The Indigo Buntings have made their annual migration north to our area–in fact, to all of eastern North America–for the summer. They do eat mainly insects in the summer, but with a big bill like that you know they also eat seeds, so can be found hanging out at your feeder–especially if you put out thistle seeds!

Here in eastern North America, we have a few birds that are blue: Indigo Bunting and Eastern Bluebird are about the same size–the size of a House Sparrow. Two larger birds are the Blue Grosbeak–also almost all blue–and the Blue Jay, which is a lighter gray and blue.

Some of you humans might have guessed Eastern Bluebird, so here’s a male Eastern Bluebird for comparison:

Eastern Bluebird male

I usually post another photo of the mystery, so please don’t get confused. This is not the Indigo Bunting! To tell it’s a bluebird, look for the red belly. He also has a thinner bill.

Like the male bluebird, the male Indigo Bunting is bright blue–but on both the back and the belly. The female Indigo Bunting is much harder to spot because she is brown and similar to a House Sparrow. This helps her hide on a nest. We’ll let you humans check The Cornell Lab of Ornithology Indigo Bunting page for more photos to help tell these birds apart.

It’s fun to spot a different bird, but unlike flowers, they don’t stay still. Your eye has to go to the body parts to help identify them before they fly off!

Still bird feeding time

The flowers are blooming, but few have produced seed, and not really the seed many of us like.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak male

So keep those backyard feeders filled! Both the birds and we squirrels will keep visiting!

But, maybe not at the same time–did ya notice that seed-cracking bill on this male Rose-breasted Grosbeak?

Yellow Water Iris

All this rain we’ve had has the streams running high here in northern Virginia and the ponds full. This old squirrel has stayed clear of them for fear of being washed away. Same for the roads–but because you humans can’t see a gray squirrel when it’s raining. Besides, who wants wet fur?

The rain has been good for the plants. Our suburban neighborhood is fully green and it seems we’ve moved to the early summer flowers. Because it’s Thursday, we can enjoy pond flowers today!

pond edge with Yellow Water Iris

Unfortunately, not native ones.

Yellow Water Iris

Yellow Water Iris has naturalized in North America, but is an invasive plant that some feel is becoming a little too common. Humans like it, plant it and any bit of broken roots spread the plant. We read a good suggestion: only plant this iris in closed garden ponds, not streams, canals or open waterways where the plant roots and seeds can be carried downstream and spread.

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

Back with your mystery this week. Here’s a thing Nutmeg and I saw a few weeks ago…had to wait to for it to finish up before I could post for you good folks.

Mystery #151

Know what it is? Give us a guess in the comments!


Sorry! I had an unexpected delay, and I see so many of you checked in that I am embarrassed. No guesses, but no surprise because we also didn’t know what it was and had to check back as the tree grew its leaves out… (that was a hint!)

Willow Oak leaf

This photo is from early spring, the emerging leaves of a Willow Oak tree! Willow Oak, Quercus phellos, is a large native tree growing to 120 feet in the eastern and central U.S. As the name suggests, the leaves are more like those on a willow tree–and certainly skinny as they unfurl.


Willow Oak acorns

They have no teeth or lobes and turn yellow to yellow-tan in the fall. We squirrels love the acorns, but when the trees are deep in the woods–usually along marshes–we have to share with Wild Turkey, Wood Ducks, Red-headed Woodpeckers, deer and tore mammals like raccoons, and opossums and a host of birds. The Fairfax County Park Authority has a long list on their Willow Oak page.

It was fun to see this newly planted tree in our suburban neighborhood.

WIllow Oak tree

How about considering this species for your yard? You’d make a lot of squirrels happy! And maybe some turkeys, woodpeckers, bobwhite…