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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She was camera shy

Last week I spied six eggs in Ralph and Alice Chickadee’s nest. I wondered if the clutch was complete or if there might be more eggs on the way. Last year, Lucy and Ricky had a clutch of seven eggs when they rented out the place. So, I know Ralph and Alice, this year’s renters, have room to spare.

Today I approached my backyard nest box, called Alice’s name and gave a firm rap on the side of the bird house to alert the occupants company had arrived. Nothing happened. I ever so slowly opened the bird house top and pointed it away from myself to give Alice an opportunity to exit if she was incubating her clutch. But it was so quiet, I thought she may have left for a few minutes to feed.

Alice! You ARE in there! Will you pose for a photo?

She was camera-shy and shot out of the nest box. I spied seven eggs! So, one was added since my last observation and incubation has begun. Will we have seven Black-capped Chickadee fledglings in a few weeks?

Seven Chickadee Eggs

Look closely. Two eggs are nestled against the left side of the nest cup. Seven in all! A nice size clutch.

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Hoot’s lookin’ at you, Kid!

Great Horned Owlets

Great Horned Owlets

Cousin Thelma and I decided to hold our occasional coffee date at the arboretum this morning.  The weather cooperated and we grabbed a table outdoors on the cafeteria patio to catch up on news.  Later, as we strolled through the bluebell and daffodil glade, we came upon some birders whose binoculars were trained on something special …. baby owls!





Here are a few more snaps of the
arboretum on this lovely spring day.




Cousin Thelma and arboretum bluebells

great horned owl fledglings

Great Horned Owl Fledglings

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Have you ever seen a Brown Headed Cowbird nest?

Probably not.  They don’t build nests.  They deposit their eggs in the nests of other wild bird species for the host species to raise their young.

Brown Headed Cowbird Eggs

Brown Headed Cowbird Eggs In Eastern Bluebird Nest

Don’t the hosts know they have a “foreign” egg or nestling?  Evidence suggests they do.  Some species will dispose of the cowbird egg, others incubate, hatch and rear the cowbirds along with their own.  Evidence also exists that cowbirds watch over their eggs and may retaliate if the host birds don’t accept them.

Male Brown Headed Cowbird

Male Brown Headed Cowbird

So, what did I find on my Eastern Bluebird monitor route walk today?  Something I’ve never found before.  Two Brown Headed Cowbird eggs in a nest with 3 lovely bluebird eggs.  The adult bluebird pair was in the area perched above its nest-box guarding it as usual.  In spite of the cost to their own young (they will have a difficult time finding enough food to feed the additional mouths with very large appetites) they will likely be good parents to the cowbird nestlings left in their care.

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Can you help?

Rosa Rugosa

Rosa Rugosa (Photo credit: BristolSue)

A mystery blog reader needs help.  Today s/he commented with this question on one of my earlier posts, What big hips you have, Rose!

And the question is …  I have a question for all and sundry! I want to plant a rugosa rose – it has abundant hips but they are quite large. I have heard from some that birds do not or cannot eat large hips – that I should select a variety with smaller hips. Does anyone have experience with rugosa roses, hips and success with birds?? Would love an answer before I order and plant this new rose. Thanks!!

English: Some rose hips in close-up

English: Some rose hips in close-up (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Well, I just took a brief look around the internet and I found what I think might be a good source to get more information …. an arboretum.  Click here to see what the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois has this to say about birds and rugosa rose hips.

Pine Grosebeaks

Pine Grosebeaks (Photo credit: Ryan Lindsey)

The article on the arboretum website says this about the rugosa rose hips, “Birds Attracted: 42+ species, including waxwing, grosbeaks, vireo, and chickadee.”  42+ species!  It would be nice if they listed them all.  That tells me there is no lack of birds that will munch on those hips!  Well, chickadees are quite small birds.  Vireos are as well.  Waxwings and grosbeaks are no larger than robins, if that.  The smallest birds at my feeders, such as pine siskins and gold finches sit in my crab tree all winter and pick at the crab apples that are a fairly good size.  They don’t eat the entire apple, they pick at it and eat it in bites.  But I don’t know if rose hips lend themselves to being nibbled upon or eaten whole.

Can you help?  Any rose hip / wild bird experts in the house who can post an answer here?

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