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.