Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Happy Ending To Our Bluebird Summer

Every summer I write about the bluebirds in our yard.  Every year is different and every year I learn a lot.  As many of my friends know, this year has been a struggle.  It all started in early Spring when a pair of bluebirds came to look at our property.  As I have mentioned several times, we have two houses about fifteen feet apart.  Every year the Tree Swallows occupy one house and the Eastern Bluebirds occupy the other.  For thirteen years it was always the same.  Apparently this bluebird couple is new to the neighborhood and didn't get the memo.  After a lot of deliberation, they chose the tree swallow house.

Mrs. Eastern Bluebird

Mr. Eastern Bluebird.

This pair arrived in March and began building their first nest on April 14, 2016.  The weather had finally gotten warm enough.

Building a nest in the Tree Swallow house.

She laid only two eggs.  Bluebird eggs usually take 12-14 days to hatch.  She wasn't very good at sitting on the nest, and I thought it was strange particularly when the weather was still cool.  Maybe she knew they weren't viable.  Then, a couple weeks later,  I began seeing her bringing in more nesting material.  I had not removed the old nest and unhatched eggs but she started building a new nest on top of the old one.  She took a lot of time making this nest perfect and eventually laid five eggs.

Then early in the morning on May 30th, the bluebird pair were unsettled. The male would go into the house and pull out pieces of nesting. They were chattering.  I went to look and all five eggs are gone. They weren't on the ground like they would be if a wren had gotten to them. They had disappeared completely.  We speculated as to what happened.  It could have been a raccoon, a snake, a chipmunk, a red squirrel or a cat,  but we really didn't know. 

For six days, the bluebirds remained in the area. They would sit on the house and briefly go in. They would chase other birds away. Eventually they were more active and stayed nearby. I checked the house for a new nest because I had removed the other two. There was no nest but one lone egg was laying on the wooden floor of the birdhouse,  I really didn't know what to think at this point.  I left it for two days trying to decide if I remove it or just see what happens.

This egg sat unattended for two days.

On June 10, before I got a chance to remove the egg, she started building another nest.  Five days later she laid the first egg.  This time she also laid five eggs.

Things were going well for a few days.  After the first egg was laid, we put the wren guard on the birdhouse.  Wrens have been a problem for us and other years this guard protected the nest from the nasty house wren.

Then disaster struck again.  This time the eggs were pulled out of house and destroyed.  The wren guard was actually ripped off the roof.  The house is old and the roof wasn't very sturdy.

Again I cleaned out the old nests,  and we repaired the house.  At this point a bluebird expert suggested we put a Noel Guard on the house.  A Noel Guard protects the birdhouse hole so a larger predator can't reach into the house and a wren can't fly directly in to pierce the eggs.  It was worth a try. We have never had a bluebird lay more than three batches of eggs in a summer, so I thought this was the end of the season.  Maybe we would have better luck next year, but we installed a Noel Guard just in case.  http://www.sialis.org/noel.htm

Much to our surprise, around June 27th, our bluebird pair tried again for the fourth time.  She worked hard building a nest.  By this time she was a pro.  She got used to the Noel Guard quickly and laid four eggs.  I held my breath for the first few days, but things went well.  On July 16 all four eggs hatched.

Newly hatched Eastern Bluebirds.

Both parents worked very hard keeping the babies fed.  I don't know how they got this big fly into bite size pieces.

Four day old babies

Nine day old babies.

Twelve day old babies.

Today is August 2.  The Bluebird babies are seventeen days old.  They were ready to fledge.  The parents are usually very tolerant of me peeking into the birdhouse, but this morning they actually dive bombed me when I walked across the yard.  They get very protective when it is time for the babies to leave the nest.  I watched and saw one little bird peeking his face out.

I knew the time was near so I grabbed a chair and started watching.  On my way outside, I saw one leave.  I had my camera with the zoom lens on.  The mom went in for a little encouragement.

I watched for a while and then the baby bird flew directly at me.  He landed on the tree about two feet away.  Too close for my zoom lens.  I took a couple photos anyway.

What a wonderful ending for us and this Eastern Bluebird family.  I think the Noel Guard was the secret.  Next Spring we will start out with it on the house and maybe we will have even more success.