Replacement Male Bluebird

Celebrating Step-Father’s Day

I spent the better part of yesterday and this morning cursing the new male who’s been hovering around the nest for the last two days or so since the father of the current brood disappeared. I cursed him for having the gall to appear at all during such a challenging time (for both the female bluebird and me) but then to be trying to actively court her on top of it? It was too much! I despised him. He reminded me of lecherous bachelors badgering overworked single moms. I cursed him when I went to bed last night. I witnessed the two of them in a mid-air scuffle around 9:00 am this morning. And cursed him again. Just leave her alone!

Then at about 10:00 am I saw him go into the next box with what looked like a huge moth. My heart lifted but then I thought about it and figured he thought the female was in there and was trying to up his courtship game by plying her with fresh kill—a normal behavior between mating pairs. So I cursed him again. And again and I don’t know how many times. Believing not all the nestlings would survive, I cursed everything.

But he wasn’t wooing her.

He was, in fact, feeding the youngsters, and changing their diapers, so to speak, by removing they fecal sacks they excrete immediately after eating. (Something I noticed they hadn’t been doing while they were short on food.) I was amazed. But still too anxious about the whole situation to believe it was really happening. So I grabbed my phone and binocs and waited for him to come around again.

And he did.

Again with food. Again cleaning up the doo-doo. Since then he’s been regularly tending to the five little muppets and they, again having twice the food source, have visibly improved their physical state.

After a little research I learned that this sometimes happens—that a “floater” bird, one without a mate or territory, will under the right circumstances step in as a replacement when one of a pair is lost. The male particularly might assume a parenting role in the hope of establishing himself as a landholder in the neighborhood. Replacement females are more likely to kill the nestlings of a widowed male so she can establish herself as a mother. All of this is news to me. (And how downright cruel of those females!)

So, I am overjoyed and want to take it all back. All the cursing. I misjudged the new male, assuming he was the same rakish flirt as the last replacement male two summers ago. As fathers go, this guy’s the real deal. Happy Father’s Day weekend. Now.

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.

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.

Good Morning!

Inspired by yesterday’s video—that STILL—make me bust a gut, I scribbled this little doodle this morning. The lazy one was the last one fed…

Two Bluebird Eggs

The Best Kind of Easter Eggs

So now we have siblings. 😉

Remember you can see all of the nest building action here. And everyday Bluebirds life here.

Red Crossbill at Albany Pine Bush ©Christine Glade

Wishing Made It So. Red Crossbills

We improved a trip to Albany today with a walk around the Albany Pine Bush Preserve. We’d already been graced en route by the sighting of a Northern Harrier as we drove by the Alfred Z Solomon Grasslands.

As we pulled into the parking area I silently wished to see a Horned Lark or a Red Crossbill. (I might have used the conjunction “and” not “or” in phrasing my request but right now I’m choosing to recall it with less greediness.) This tactic of summoning birds started “working” for me last spring. I don’t question it. It’s like wearing a lucky hat or repeating a novena. Last spring I swear I successfully summoned Indigo Buntings, Scarlet Tanagers, Baltimore Orioles, Eastern Towhees and Magnolia Warblers. This winter the Snow Buntings arrived when asked, though they refused to pose for photos. I do offer a practical note on this method: don’t ask to see birds that would not possibly be there. Oh, and this tactic apparently does not work with owls. Don’t bother. 😉

Anyway, about 20 minutes into our walk we did in fact watch a large flock of a dozen Red Crossbills land high in the pine treetops. What a treat! And yet another Lifer Bird for yours truly. They were pretty far away and hard to photograph, even with a 600mm, lens but here are a few images of these intriguing birds.

Ps. I regularly checked my phone for Bluebird egg action back at home. Alas, not today.

Last Minute Fussing?

The female continues to fuss with final nursery preparations. Bringing in more grasses to fill out the center of the nest. The male still acts as supervisor, showing up at whim, removing pieces of grass that don’t please him and generally messing things up. 😉

Unlike our couple for the past few years, this pair seems younger and more tentative. Also, we were able to tell when last year’s female was carrying an egg—she became visibly bottom heavy, or barrel-chested. We’ve not seen any of sign like that in the current female but it may simply be because she’s not yet ready to lay. She constantly flies to the male and assumes the mating position. He flies off and she follows. I’ve read that Bluebird mating is rarely witnessed so maybe they went off and got a room somewhere. (Hoping!) Still optimistic that we’ll be seeing the first 2021 eggs soon.