One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

Our mystery today comes to us from regular reader, Connie. Thanks, Connie!

Mystery #179

Yes, it’s those little blobs, about the size of a small acorn.

I’ll check back later for your guesses, but if you’d like a hint, scroll down:

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Hint: Connie found these on her pontoon boat.

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One brave reader guessed that these particles were the stuffing from the boat. No, but that was our first guess, too! No mice or insects were burrowing inside. This was deposited on the boat and appears nearly every morning, Connie tells us.

And every morning someone visits the boat.

Great Blue Heron on Lake Audubon Paul Hartke 2016

If the light is a bit too dim for you, here’s another photo.

Great Blue Heron on Lake Audubon

That’s a Great Blue Heron. A very old one, we believe, because his beard–the feathers trailing from his neck–is full. Now we squirrels had heard of owls regurgitating pellets of fur and bones after they eat, but not herons, so we did a bit of research. Turns out herons do as well, and it’s called “casting.”

fish bones in a Great Blue Heron casting

fish bones in a Great Blue Heron casting

If you look closely, this deposit, or regurgitation, contains small fish bones and scales!

Herons also have a throat pouch. When they have young in the nest, they swallow a fish or two and carry them back to the nest and regurgitate them for the young birds. Young birds might do the same if a predator attacks their nest to frighten it away.

Want to learn more about Great Blue Herons? The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a camera on a heron nest and answers many questions about these birds on their Bird Cam FAQ website.

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve: Guess the Gray Bird #7

Hey there!

I’ve saved one of the hardest for today. Do you know what this gray bird is?

Mystery #161

As usual for a Sunday mystery, I’ll let you guess and check back in later with the answer!

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Well folks, I must apologize. Squirrel life in the woodlands was a bit disrupted this week and I forgot to post the answer to the mystery. I think I just assumed I gave the answer like I’d been doing all week with the other gray birds. *paws over eyes*

Eastern Phoebe

This is the Eastern Phoebe, a bird you humans may hear before you see. The call is it’s name– a raspy phoebe–usually made with a wag of the tail. Phoebes are a type of flycatcher, and just as the name describes, they feed on insects while flying.

Bluebird Nestbox Invaded

Well, this is a hard story to tell, folks. Our reader friend, Nancy, wrote that the Eastern Bluebirds in her yard had laid a second set of eggs.

Eastern Bluebird female

Eastern Bluebird hatchlings 1-2 days old

They hatched, but twelve days later the parent birds were forced to abandon the nestlings.

Note: Nancy began documenting this local bluebird nesting and shared it with The Squirrel Nutwork in April. Search ‘bluebird’ if you wish to see the older posts!

First, we are pleased to say the fledglings from the first nesting  had continued to stay with the parent bluebirds, and were helping to feed the second set of hatchlings.

Eastern Bluebird with juvenile

Eastern Bluebird juveniles

Nancy reported it was wonderful to see all three return.

Eastern Bluebirds juveniles

Then one evening a raccoon tried to get into the nest box…

Raccoon stalking bluebird nest box

…including climbing the nearby fence. Lucky for the bluebirds, he got stuck and gave up.

Raccoon on a fence

But the next day, a House Sparrow was spotted entering the nest box. You readers may remember that the House Sparrow entered the nest box after the first set of fledglings left.

House Sparrow invading bluebird nest

These aggressive–and non-native!–birds must have been harassing the bluebirds all along. Despite the help from another male bluebird and the three juveniles, the female was looking thin and worn out the day the raccoon appeared.

Eastern Bluebird female thin and worn

All of the bluebirds disappeared, leaving the 12 day old nestlings.

Eastern Bluebird hatchlings 12 days old_1

Nancy and her family tried to feed them.

Feeding bluebird hatchlings

Mealworms, egg whites and soaked dog food were recommended by the Wildlife Rescue League–but with work, these humans couldn’t feed the same amount of food that six birds could, and the nestlings didn’t make it. Nancy and her family were quite upset when they wrote us.

As soon as the nest box was empty, a House Wren tried to use it, and in fact, was rather insistent!

Carolina Wren trying to use bluebird nest box_1

The solution has been to leave it open to discourage the other birds.

Bluebird nest box open

Unfortunately, this nature story isn’t unusual. Even with this much help from humans, wildlife have a tough time of it. The competition for food and nesting sites is fierce. The more docile songbirds like the Eastern Bluebirds can’t compete with critters who are more aggressive.

Nancy wrote us that even with the loss of the second hatchlings, the positive part of having the nest box in their yard was the success of the parent birds raising the first three chicks through to being able to fend for themselves. They will go on to raise families of their own next year.