Wildlife Wednesday

Tiger salamander in a stock tank in Pawnee National Grassland. Photo by Jamie Simo

Dark Star(ling)

In tandem with my Red-breasted Nuthatch box, I’ve been running my Northern Flicker box cam again this year. Because Youtube isn’t set up to do more than one livestream per account, however, I’ve been running it on a separate account.

Early in the season there was a lot of activity at the flicker box. On one cold, snowy day there were even 2 male flickers fighting over a female who had taken shelter from the weather in the box. I watched the males try to grab the female by the beak and pull her out of the box, perhaps to mate?, then chase each other around and around the catalpa tree in my neighbor’s yard.

Then things quieted down and it seemed all the neighborhood flickers had found their mates and nesting spots. Recently though, a male flicker has returned to the box. It’s getting late in the season, but 2 years ago it was about this time when my last successful flicker pair laid their eggs, so it could happen again this year. He has a lady, which I was able to confirm after seeing them both fly from the box to a nearby tree and mate, so only time will tell.

I’m glad the male flicker returned to the box on Monday because on Sunday he was attacked by a European Starling that tried to steal the box.

WARNING: The following footage may be disturbing to watch. 

In the last few years, starlings have only shown up in my yard very early (generally February and March), but then move on. I don’t tend to hear or see them most of the year in my neighborhood. I think that’s why my flickers were successful 2 years ago; they nested later when starlings had already chosen their nesting spots. Perhaps this starling then was desperate for a nest cavity. Maybe that’s why he chose the ambush approach rather than trying to lure the flicker out of the box.

As I’ve mentioned before, starlings are an invasive species brought over from Britain. They co-evolved with the European Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis) and the Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) and, as a result, have developed deadly weapons (sharp, dagger-like bills, long legs, and claws) and aggressive tactics, to compete for nest cavities with those woodpeckers since they’re unable to build their own.

Our native woodpeckers didn’t have to deal with nest predators like the starling when they evolved so they don’t have the killer instinct to protect their homes, but nesting later in the season may be an adaptation to dealing with the starlings, as has been postulated before.

So far so good on the starling front, though I remain cautious. I removed the nesting material the victorious starling placed into the box on Sunday (bits of native yarrow and blue flax) along with adding more woodchips and I haven’t seen or heard any starlings since.

More as it develops!

So Long

Well, it’s been a while since the Red-breasted Nuthatches checked out the nestbox so I think it’s safe to turn off the camera stream. They’ve almost certainly found a different nesting cavity by now and hopefully are well on their way to a young family. Like a lot of cavity nesting birds, the male may find a nest site, but it’s the female who has final say over where their babies are raised.

About 2 weeks ago, the male nuthatch succeeded in getting his mate to check out the accommodations.  As you can see in the video, the female spent a lot of time jumping into the box and turning around inside, maybe judging the box for size. Whether it was the size or configuration or some other characteristic, she must’ve found the box wanting. I saw the two of them on the box one more time last week, but the new woodchips I put inside haven’t been disturbed since.

Good luck, little nuthatches! I hope I see you again this fall and winter!