One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

Recognize this late nester?

I’ll check back later!

~~~

We admit this is a tough one–only a dark-feathered back and a broad yellow beak. And maybe you can see a hint of her nest, made of twigs.

This little lady is a common songbird in our part of northern Virginia–an American Robin.

See the similarities?

Fun facts: robin nests are constructed of approximately 350 twigs and pieces of grass, each about 6 inches long. The robin uses mud, collected one beak at a time, to ‘cement’ the nest together, then lines the inside with more grasses.

Want more information? This American Robin page on Learner.org helped us with its good facts.

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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.

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!

A Bluebird Update

Our reader friend Nancy has sent us an update on the Eastern Bluebirds making their home in her suburban Virginia yard.

Eastern Bluebirds

The parent birds have been dutifully hunting insects. But while they were away one afternoon, a Gray Catbird took to hanging out on the nest box…

Gray Catbird

…prompting our concerned human friend to have a look inside.

hatchling Eastern Bluebirds in nest box

The hatchlings were all accounted for. Thank you, Nancy, for the pictorial update!

Not-A-Birdhouse

This looks like a birdhouse, but we noticed this summer that the birds never used it. Hickory and I were curious why and got a little closer.

round birdhouse

Did you see inside there? The holes are blocked.

holes blocked

“Not fair!” Hickory twitches his tail. “This makes birds work extra, thinking they have found a spot, only to be turned away.”

Don’t humans realize animals get frustrated, too?

Nest Building

Sorry, I didn’t make a post earlier in the week. I was busy with adding layers to my leaf nest, trying to keep it cooler. But my housekeeping reminded me of an interesting find Hickory and I ran across about a month ago.

American Crow Nest

We were high up, feeding on new leaves and saw this jumble of sticks. We both froze. Seconds later the black tail feathers popped up over the edge, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

It was a crow. While crows might chase us and caw, they don’t really go after squirrels with an eye for a meal. Not like a hawk would. Still, we scooted out of their pretty quick. No point asking for trouble.

 

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there! On a recent windy day, a nest blew from a tree- one much shorter than mine. I know it’s the nest of an American Robin, at least that’s what Nutmeg and I remember, so that’s not the mystery today. The mystery is, what is it made of?

Mystery #64

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Have you figured it out? Birds use all kinds of nesting materials.

Inside of Robin's nest

This nest has a base of mud, with mainly grass, but a number of darker, reddish, long needles from the White Pine. Stuck at the bottom is a bit of dryer lint–or some stuffing, we’re not sure–and a branchlet off a Leland Cyprus.

And the long dried pieces sweeping off to the right? Dried leaves from day lilies.