The question.

The question dawned on me this evening.  May I still call myself Bluebird Annie?  After all, I went out last Saturday to close up the nest boxes on my bluebird route for the winter and for the last time.  I have given up the route and let the Forest Preserve District know I will not be continuing to monitor after five seasons “on the job” in order to pursue other interests.

It was my last goodbye to my bird route and boxes where I had learned so much, saw so much of the pain, sorrow, joy, happiness that nature’s life-cycle yields.

The day before, I found myself taking shelter at a highway rest stop along Interstate 57 while tornadoes swirled within a few miles.  Tornadoes that leveled neighborhoods in Washington and Diamond, Illinois.  But this box-closing day was cold, breezy, sunny and mostly silent in the woods.  I didn’t spy one other soul on the trail.

This next box entry has a strip of duct tape applied to the inside cover to seal it for winter.

This next box entry has a strip of duct tape applied to the inside cover to seal it for winter.

I found a couple of un-occupied mouse nests in two boxes.  Swept them out.  Taped the box entries shut.

I heard the sounds of red-bellied woodpeckers, chickadees, and from very high above, the calls of migrating sand cranes.

I hiked back to the car and pulled away — not quite in tears, but certainly sad.

I drove to my favorite place to contemplate …. the Morton Arboretum.  Here’s their latest SEASONS Member Magazine.  I thought you might like to take a look.  On its cover is … an Eastern Bluebird.



If a tree falls in a forest and there is no one to hear, is there a sound?

If there are no more bluebird nest boxes being monitored, can there still be a Bluebird Annie?

No question about this …. have a

Happy Thanksgiving!

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At the height of the summer season it was broad daylight at 5:30 a.m.  Now as I drive out of the garage and head for the train station at that time, the darkness is broken by front porch lights and street lamps.  A reminder that the days have grown shorter.  The commuter rail platform is awash in the ugly yellow glow from lights dotting the ceiling of the brown wooden arcade that offers skimpy shelter to commuters in inclement weather.  I no longer hear Cardinals singing out their territories.  Summer has moved on. The leaves are turning.  Autumn is here.

mature male goldfinch

A mature goldfinch, like this male in his summer breeding finery, can “hang around” comfortably munching on seed from a species-specific feeder.

It’s when the “Cinnamons” arrive.  That’s my nick-name for the late-summer / early autumn cinnamon-colored American Goldfinch fledglings that appear at my feeders.  They are the noisiest fledglings!

With olive-colored plumage during winter, adult Goldfinch males molt into bright yellow with little black caps in breeding season.  Females retain their olive feather coats year-around.  The adults take their turns at the feeders.  The peace is broken when cinnamon-colored youngsters follow their parents to the feeders.

Goldfinches nest later in the season than most birds.  It’s later in the year when their favorite silky plant fluff for nests and thistle for food are abundant in the fields.  Their August and September fledglings are just beginning to learn the ropes while the springtime avian young are fairly well on their own emerging as young adults.

fledgling goldfinch slipping off of its feeder

Oops! A common sight as the season’s youngest learn how to negotiate a Goldfinch feeder.

The young Cinnamons are unsure of their footing.  Many a time they try but are unsuccessful mimicking the adults who casually hang upside down for minutes on end from the specialized Goldfinch feeder.

The little ones belly flop over the side of the perch just to find they haven’t mastered the art of clinging.  They flutter back to a tree branch.  Frustrated, they call more loudly, “Mom!  Dad!  Do you expect me to be able to feed myself?  Feed me!”

fledgling American goldfinch

This fledgling American Goldfinch, wearing its juvenile cinnamon feathers, is getting the “hang” of munching Nyger seed from the Goldfinch feeder.



I love watching the Goldfinch youngsters.  Cinnamons.  They’re vocal and insistent.  They beg food from any winged adult nearby — parents or not.

As the season moves on, they become more sure-footed and begin to comfortably cling upside down at the feeder.

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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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