I’ve been spying on young males. But they’re leaving me.

a ruby-throated hummingbird at a favorite feeder

a ruby-throated hummingbird at a favorite feeder

Female hummingbirds outnumber male hummingbirds in nature.

Young Ruby-throated hummingbird males look like females during their first summer.  They don’t have ruby-red throats and they have white markings on the tips of their tails like the females.

Some of these young males will begin to  show a few small red feathers around their throats in late summer and early autumn of their “hatch year”.

And so, as I get a very close look at the hummers on the feeder outside my kitchen window, I’ve been spying on young males.  I know they are hatch year male Ruby-throated hummers because they’re sporting new, clean, tiny red dots on their throats.

hummer and tiny mice

a hummingbird sips nectar from the flower of a plant called “tiny mice”

The tiny red dots glint in the light as the young hummers move.

Male hummers!

It’s something to get excited about because there just are not that many males.  And these can be identified as having been hatched just this breeding season.

Sadly, they are leaving me.

Off to warm Central American wintering grounds where the hatch year males will grow out full gorgets of ruby-red feathers before I see them again in spring.


a hummingbird plays peek-a-boo with my camera




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Sadly, I need to let you know …

… that this 2013 season will be my last as a Bluebird Monitor.

Picture Perfect Bluebird Eggs

Picture Perfect Bluebird Eggs

Yes, after five seasons I’ve determined that I can’t continue to devote the necessary time.  I need to free up some hours for my new priorities that include a new birding adventure … building out a full-fledged birding website.  Plans are to continue this blog and later consider merging it with the website.  I’ll certainly keep you informed.

In the meantime and for the foreseeable future, the blog will continue right here.

I felt bad about sending my “resignation” letter to the Bluebird Monitor coordinator at the forest preserve district along with my 2013 season report.  And I’ll miss “my” bluebirds.

I sincerely appreciated the opportunity provided me.  I learned a lot being able to get so close to nature.

But my 2013 season isn’t over yet!  I will go out to clean and close up the boxes later in the year so they’ll be all set for 2014.  This year it will be a lonely task knowing I won’t be back.  I could use some company.  Would you come along?

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Purple Martins 101

Having become very familiar with my backyard birds and those on my bluebird route, I thought it high time to branch out and learn about some other species.

Purple Martins Perching

Purple Martins Perching

One species I have an interest in is Purple Martins.  They’re related to the Tree Swallows that nest in boxes along with Eastern Bluebirds on my monitor route.  A friend’s family had Purple Martins when she was a child.  And my sister-in-law has been trying to encourage them at her place without success.  So, what’s up with this bird that seems to fascinate people and nests in communities on top of tall poles?

A member of my birding club, also a volunteer at a nearby golf course where he takes care of its Eastern Bluebird nest boxes and Purple Martin colony, gave a presentation this past Saturday morning.  He called it “Purple Martins 101″.  Here’s what I learned … fascinating!

Lowering a Purple Martin House

Lowering a Purple Martin House

Native Americans observed Purple Martins nesting in woodpecker holds and natural cavities and began hollowing out gourds and hanging them on poles to attract the birds to nest in their villages.  The Purple Martins adapted to the human habitat offerings and over the centuries became accustomed to them.  European colonists learned how to encourage the martins and also invited them with housing.  The human offering of housing was so successful that today, Eastern Purple Martins nest exclusively in man-made housing!  Western Purple Martins, however, still largely nest the old-fashioned way … in old woodpecker holes and other natural nesting cavities.

I thought that communities of Purple Martins would not have to compete with other birds for nest cavities, but as it turns out many other birds do attempt to use the martin colony nest compartments.  Bluebirds, Tree Swallows, English (House) Sparrows, Starlings, House Wrens are the most common competing species.

Gathering Around To Peek Inside

Gathering Around To Peek Inside

After giving an hour-long presentation about the history and habits of Purple Martins, our host lowered a colony, opened several compartments and continued to educate us.

Purple Martin Nestling

Purple Martin Nestling

He removed nestlings from a nest infested with insects and replaced it with one he fashioned from Styrofoam.  He allowed participants to hold the tiny nestlings (no, birds never abandon their nestlings because humans have handled them).

I learned that Purple Martins enjoy open areas near water.  They rid the area of insects (though it’s a myth that they eat mosquitoes) and act as scarecrows for farmers.  They appreciate the proximity of humans whose presence helps keep predators away.

While I don’t foresee hosting a Purple Martin colony myself, this interesting bird and its relationship to humans is worth closer study.

Purple Martin Sanctuary

Purple Martin Sanctuary

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What would Red Barber have called it?

It’s one of those one-thing-leads-to-another evenings at my keyboard.

The longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere is upon me and I’m settling into summer.

Hummingbirds are now regulars at my nectar feeders and the catbird seat is often occupied by … what else?  Catbirds!

I decided to check out the source of the term, “catbird seat“.  And what do you know …. one version of its origin has it attributed to the late sportscaster, Red Barber!

Summertime, indeed!  The sounds of meowing catbirds and baseball!

Gray Catbirds

A pair of Gray Catbirds enjoys snacking on a suet cake in the “catbird seat” where I can spy on them.

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Growing like weeds

Just to bring you up to date on Ralph and Alice’s brood.

They were huddled in the deep nest cup and it was impossible to sort them out.

I would guess there actually are seven in there!  Same as the number of eggs!

Not much more to say.

A picture is worth a thousand words.

Chickadee Nestlings about 11 days old.

Chickadee Nestlings about 11 days old.

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Ralph and Alice have been flying in and out of their nest box.  There has been so much activity!  There MUST BE hatchlings in that box, I thought.  So, time for a monitoring.

I really didn’t think enough time had passed for Ralph and Alice’s eggs to hatch.  But I guess enough time had passed after all.

Last year’s nest box renters, Ricky and Lucy, were always very vocal.  Chick-a-dee, dee! Fee bee bee!  Fee bee bee!  They would scold whenever their nest was monitored.  Then they would fly off for a distance.

Not so with Ralph and Alice.  They stay near and are silent!

So, when I opened the nest box, what did I spy?

Day old chickadee hatchlings.

Look …

Black-capped Chickadee Hatchlings

One-day-old Black-capped Chickadee Hatchlings

One-day-old Black-capped Chickadee Hatchlings
Ralph and Alice’s Septuplets
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She arrived today.  On time.  On time being the 3rd weekend of May … more or less.  A bit less this year.  A few days before the 3rd weekend in May.  You can set your watch by her arrival, they say.

Who is she?

You know, don’t you?

The first Ruby-throated Hummingbird of the season to make it to my feeders.

Yesterday I bought fuchsia plants (for the hummers to sip nectar from in my garden) for planting this weekend.

The 3rd weekend of May.

Just in time.


Ruby-throated Hummingbird sipping nectar

Ruby-throated Hummingbird sipping nectar

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