Empty Bluebird Nest

The Deep Heartbreaking Blues.

While we were away these last two days I noticed whenever I peeked into the bluebird nest on my phone I was only seeing the mother feeding the nestlings. The second brood (from a new pair,) now about six days old, looked frail and shaky, hardly able to keep their heads lifted, but still cried out to be fed. I kept checking any time I had cell service and my heart began the slow plunge into my expected sorrow. I’d seen this scenario before. Something had happened to the father. The male was gone. And I can’t help but feel we’re on another path to heartbreak.

Two season ago, after (my all-time favorite) male suddenly vanished, the female wore herself out trying to feed her offspring alone and ultimately was unable to provide enough for all. Which is why I suspect that, like last time, one or more of these five sibling bluebirds will not survive and I fully understand there’s nothing I can do about it, except remove any once they pass in the hope of saving the living. Last time we encountered this I didn’t have a nest cam in place, it was swarming flies that tipped me off to the tragedy. Back then I had a clean spare empty nest (that I’d retrieved from another birdhouse that was never used) and used it replace the original one that was, by the time we intervened, too touched by death for my comfort. I replaced the nest with the spare and tucked the one surviving nestling into it with all the good juju we could send it. That baby survived and ultimately fledged; the others, we buried in a special spot, our hearts heavy.

And, just as in that previous season, I caught glimpse of a male yesterday evening which lifted my hopes that the father was okay, until I realized it was not the father at all, but a new male eager to occupy this nest and mate with this female. I’m trying to not resent him for horning in and for not offering help in keeping this brood alive as a stepparent. I’m trying to not resent him the same way I tried to not resent his predecessor, the now-missing male, after he, a month ago, battered the previous one-legged father and claimed this nest box as his. I’m reminded that, if karma exists, if offers no comfort. It never does.

So now, we wait. I have no idea for how long. But we all wait while we witness and honor the possibly truncated lives of these little beings. I can’t help but wonder, does the mother know? You would not know by her efforts that she thinks she could fail. Is she still in survival mode trying to save them all? Or will she choose who she feeds to increase the odds of any single survivor? My heart collapses under the weight of these questions and I have to push them out of my mind. Aware, once again, that nature answers to no one.

Abandoned Catbird Nest

Abandoned Catbird Nest

I’d been watching with interest as a Catbird pair built this nest in the Oriental Lilac just outside the workshop window. After having assembled a loose bramble of sticks in the palm of a few branches I happened to see when one of them brought a long strip of discarded (not by us) shipping tape, and used it as a building material.

Once the nest was inhabitable I watched and planned how I might video the feeding of hatchlings when they arrived. There was almost always a catbird sitting in the nest, keeping a low profile but watchful eye. I wound up hanging a piece of camouflage cloth on the window so I would not bother her during everyday activities—one of my workbenches stands beneath the window.

After about a week of her constant sitting I noticed the nest was left empty for a day. Then two. Three. And well, forever. I knew there had been eggs so of course I wondered what had happened. Did they hatch? But were abandoned? After more than a week I went and looked into the cup of the nest. It was empty except for a puddle of lilac petals that had dropped from the surrounding blossoms. No evidence of eggs or birds.

My best guess is one of the many gray or red squirrels in the area attacked the nest and removed the eggs. With nothing left in need of attention, the catbirds moved on. I think to build another nest in the same bush, but one deeper into the bush’s twiggy tangle and not easily spotted by predators, or photographers.

Female American Goldfinch - a spark of sunshine in the pines

Birds that Aren’t Blue

A few frames from recent walks not far from home. See, lots of birds get my attention not just those beginning with blue.

Today’s Bird – Summer Tanager

A nice addition to the Life List with this drop-dead red delight.

Blue Gray Gnatcatcher Nesting

An adorable pair of Blue Gray Gnatcatchers were building their dream home in Belleplain State Forest today. I have a serious crush on birds that are blue.

Male Baltimore Oriole

First Baltimore Oriole of the Year

Male Baltimore Oriole

A glance out the window and what did I see? A bright bold luscious Oriole sittin’ in the tree.

Four Baby Bluebirds

Becoming Birds (video)

Every morning I peek into the nest (via my phone) and the first thing I do is try to count beaks. Sometimes I have to wait until a feeding when all the beaks are plainly, comically visible. I don’t fully exhale until I see four needy mouths. So far, four everyday. 🙂

I was shocked last year to learn the survival rate for Eastern Bluebirds is only 25%. Yes, 75% of the birds do not make it. In our short career as Bluebird Ambassadors, we have lost six nestlings, at least four fledglings (that we know about) and one gorgeous and kind male adult in the span of two spring/summer seasons. It’s heartbreaking…truly heartbreaking…but I’m reminded that, it’s nature. And it’s part of the fragile agreement we have with life. In this way observing Bluebirds has taught me almost as much about death and loss as it has about life. Spending any focused time in the natural world deepens our understanding of the delicate balance of existence—including our own—and our place in the cosmos. It can be like church. A lot like it.

So back to these four adorable beaks that I have the honor of observing and counting each morning. They are just beginning to look birdly. They have microscopic feathers on their heads and wings and their individual personalities are beginning to show. I think I’ve identified the runt and the bully—you know that sibling that hops and climbs over the others to directly negotiate with the parents for more food. There’s one in every family. Am I right?

This video shows a snippet from yesterday. Remember, you can see ALL the daily posts from the start of nest building HERE.

This Just Cracks Me Up. (video)

Every time I watch this I lose it.

I can’t even stop laughing enough to type about it.

Spring Birds