It’s been a while since I’ve posted because I’ve been so busy lately! On either May 22nd or early May 23rd, the Black-capped Chickadees in my nest box fledged. There were either 2 or 3 nestlings based on my observations on May 22nd.
On the 22nd, I watched both parents feed at the entry hole every 5 minutes or so and often fly off with fecal packets. Between parental visits, one nestling, noticeable as a nestling by its fleshy gape, kept sticking its head out of the hole of the nest box and looking around as if it was ready to jump out at any minute.
When I checked the next morning, the birds were gone. Next year I’ll try and rig up the nest box camera to see if I can’t capture the whole show. Since the box I’m using is pretty small, I may need to develop a false roof to attach the camera.
On March 29th, I finally got around to putting up the chickadee nest box I bought last year. Like with my flicker box, I targeted the Black-capped Chickadee as a potential yard tenant based on the fact I had a handful of them already hanging around and eating from my bird feeder. Well, on March 30th, I noticed a chickadee going in and out of the box and on April 6th, the pair already had a complete nest!
There are 7 chickadee species in North America and all are cavity-nesters. When I lived in Virginia, my backyard chickadee was the Carolina Chickadee, which tends to have a more southerly range than the Black-capped Chickadees I now encounter. Like the Northern Flicker, the Black-capped Chickadee will readily use a nest box. Of course, the chickadee is much smaller than the flicker, so it needs a smaller box. A good idea to keep birds like European Starlings and, especially, House Sparrows, away, is to buy or make a box with an entry hole too small for those birds to enter. I bought a hole guard made of metal to screw over the entry hole. The guard is 1 1/8 inches in diameter, which is perfect for the chickadees to squeeze through, but too small for those other bully birds.
Also unlike the Northern Flicker, which lays her eggs directly in the wood chips at the bottom of the cavity she’s chosen, the Black-capped Chickadee will build a nest inside her cavity of choice on top of the wood chips. The female constructs the nest using mosses, evergreen needles, bark, and other coarse materials as a base, which she then lines with softer material like animal fur and plant fibers like milkweed fluff. Only the female chickadee incubates the eggs.
Because I didn’t realize the chickadees would be so quick to start nesting, I didn’t get a nest camera installed beforehand, but I’m planning on putting one up next year. In the meantime, I’ll try to document the nest attempt as best I can. Chickadees are more sensitive to monitoring than bluebirds, so I probably won’t be checking the box too frequently lest I cause them to abandon it.
Things have been busy in Flickerdom the last few weeks. The last I posted, the previous male had disappeared and the female had decided to start over again with a new male. This is very obviously not the same male because he’s what’s known as an “intergrade.”
In the Eastern U.S. all Northern Flickers are yellow-shafted, meaning they have yellow wing and tail linings. Eastern males also have black mustache stripes and both sexes have a red crescent on the nape of the neck. Their faces are brown with a grey crown. In the west, however, Northern Flickers are red-shafted, meaning they have red wing and tail linings. The Western male’s mustache is red. Neither sex has a red nape crescent and their faces are grey with a brown crown.
Here in the eastern half of Colorado, yellow-shafted and red-shafted Flickers tend to mingle and interbreed, so while most Northern Flickers look like the red-shafted subspecies, you can get some that display traits of both subspecies. This new male, whom I’ve been thinking of as Mr. Gold, has a red mustache and no nape crescent like a red-shafted, but he has very conspicuous yellow linings to wings and tail.
The female and this new male have been mating pretty regularly and just this morning she laid her fifth egg. The male has been keeping the eggs company all night and both parents have been trading off egg duty during the day, though the male has been spending most of the time in the box. He’s a pretty industrious fellow. Maybe to stave off boredom, he’s been pecking away at the sides of the box to add new wood chips to the floor.
As I mentioned previously, Northern Flickers will lay between 6 and 8 eggs on average. They can also lay many more, however, because they’re “indeterminate layers.” This means that if their eggs are destroyed or removed, the female will keep laying for an “indeterminate” period of time. So I guess we’ll just have to see how many this pair ends up with!
School’s out, the weather is warm, and we just celebrated Independence Day. Yep, summer’s back again, but above all these the one big thing I’ve begun to associate with summer here in Colorado is the return of the swallow. Colorado boasts 8 swallow species that are here throughout the summer. In the fall they migrate to South and/or Central America to spend the winter. Of those 8 species, probably the most abundant are the cliff swallow (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) and the barn swallow (Hirundo rustica).
The cliff swallow is a small, chubby swallow with a blue back, rusty neck, and cream-colored belly and inverted triangle above the bill. Its tail is square. The barn swallow is sleeker, but is also blue, rust, and cream. The barn swallow though has a rust-colored inverted triangle above the bill and a distinctive “forked” tail (the fork is due to longer outer tail feathers).
Both cliff swallows and barn swallows can be found all across Colorado. When you sit in your car at a stop light, you may see barn swallows flitting around the cars and large flocks of cliff swallows can often be seen skimming over waterways. In both instances, the birds are hunting for insects, snatching them out of the air while on the wing. Like all insectivorous birds, its the swallow’s diet that mandates migration because insect populations in the United States won’t sustain them through the winter.
Unlike many species, cliff and barn swallows have benefited from human settlement. Swallows originally built their nests on cliffs or canyon walls, but the increase of artificial habitats such as buildings and bridges have allowed the swallows to expand their range. These nests are largely made out of mud, which is cemented to a structure with grass, hair, or feathers packed in. In the case of cliff swallows, these nests are often termed “gourd-shaped.” Because cliff swallows are communal nesters, there can be hundreds of these nests in close proximity. Barn swallows are less communal, often nesting alone or in small groups. Their nests are more cup-shaped.
Watching swallows gracefully dive and swoop, chattering to each other the entire time, is an amazing and relaxing pastime and now is the optimal time to see some baby swallows just about to fledge. If you’re in the Denver Metro area you can even get up close and personal with the cliff swallows by taking a canoe trip on the St. Vrain with The River’s Path.
If you’ve been following my blog for awhile, you’ll know that I attempted to attract northern flickers, a large speckled woodpecker, to my yard by putting up a nest box. You also know that starlings came and evicted the pair of flickers that I named Flick and Beaky, so I took down the box. Since early spring, I haven’t seen any flickers in the neighborhood, that is, until today.
I am so excited! Two days ago I saw Flick and Beaky mate in the tree across from the flicker box. I didn’t see Flick at all yesterday, but I did see Beaky chase a starling away from the box, which gave me hope that the flickers have claimed it. My fingers are crossed because I’m tired of chasing starlings!
Today, the pair have alternated being in the box all day and have kept up a pretty steady hammering on the entrance to enlarge the hole. Since both male and female northern flickers incubate the eggs, this may be a sign that they’ve started laying (like many birds, flickers lay an egg a day until laying is over. They may end up with as many as 8 or 9.). Of course without a nest box camera, I can’t be sure about that. I’ll have to invest in one for next year. In the meantime, I guess I’ll have to wait and see if any chicks pop up. Eggs tend to hatch between 11 and 13 days after laying and the young fledge about two weeks later.
So, because the starlings seemed to have taken it over, I took down the flicker box I hung on the side of my house and thought that would be the end of it. And it was going to be, except last Thursday Flick came by looking for the box and landed on it where I’d left it sitting on my potting bench on the deck. He then started drumming on it, which made me feel terrible. I felt so terrible, I put the box back up again. I even put in fresh new wood shavings for him to excavate. Yes, I was shamed by a bird.
Northern flickers are apparently not early risers because the starlings have been hanging out near the box when I get up and I have to chase them away. Fortunately, they’re pretty skittish. Unfortunately, they’re persistent. But around late morning/early afternoon, the flickers have been arriving. Both Beaky and Flick have been at, on, or in the box for a good period of time for the last few days. Right now, Beaky is on the tree opposite the flicker house while Flick is inside the house.
Male northern flickers do most of the work of excavating a nesting cavity and that definitely has been the case here. Flick has been working steadily on the box with only occasional assistance from Beaky. She’s been on the box more often since Thursday though so I’m hopeful this means she’ll be laying eggs soon!
On the ground info about Colorado nature and wildlife.