Although the Red-breasted Nuthatches never nested in my yard, I’m happy to report that it appears they fledged two little ones. They must have found a good nest site somewhere in the neighborhood because over the last 2 weeks, the male nuthatch has been bringing his chicks to my feeder.
The fledglings are duller than their dad, more like their mom with washed-out red breasts and pale grey upper parts. They also have that typical fleshy gape indicative of young birds. Theirs is bright orange.
At first, the young nuthatches were staying in the aspen in the corner of my yard while the male took them seed, but today the little ones were flying to the feeder themselves and eating. They were even brave enough to perch on the pole while I refilled the feeder!
I haven’t seen the female nuthatch at all. I know male Northern Cardinals are the ones that feed the fledglings from the first brood while the female begins the second nesting attempt, but Red-breasted Nuthatches typically only have 1 brood a year, so that’s probably not the case here. I’ve also read that both male and female Red-breasted Nuthatches feed their fledglings, so I’m not sure if something happened to the female or if maybe there’s a “divide and conquer” strategy going on (i.e. the male takes care of 2 of the young and the female takes care of the rest). Maybe next year they’ll nest in my yard so I can find out more.
The five Northern Flicker chicks are growing fast! Now fully feathered, they look like entirely different creatures than the long-necked, blind, pink things that hatched out just a few short weeks ago.
Not only have their eyes opened and their feathers grown in, but their claws have developed and the chicks are getting big. That means they have to climb to the top of the box to get fed at the entry hole, which leads to furious fights involving wing flapping and head pecks to either hold onto or usurp the prized position. In between meals, they spend a lot of time wiggling their tongues around and licking the box and each other. I assume this is a way of exploring their surroundings, like a toddler shoving everything into his/her mouth in order to taste it.
The Northern Flicker has the longest tongue of all North American birds at 4 or 5 inches long. This tongue wraps around inside its skull and can dart out 2 inches past the end of its bill. Flexible and sticky with a lightly barbed end, it’s the perfect implement for wriggling into tight crevices and lapping up ants, the flicker’s favorite food. Any ants that escape feedings are now quickly slurped up by these ever-hungry and watchful little chicks.
While I’ll be sad to see these little guys leave the nest, I’ll also be excited to watch them take their first flights. In fact, they could be fledging any day now. Northern Flickers generally fledge (develop wing muscles and feathers of sufficient strength to allow flight away from the nest) between 25 and 28 days after hatching so the 3 older chicks could fledge as early as this weekend. Stay tuned!
The Northern Flicker family appears to be doing well. The first 3 chicks hatched out on June 1, the 4th on June 2, and the 5th on June 3. So far the 6th egg hasn’t hatched and I suspect it won’t since it’s been 14 days since it was laid and the parents don’t even seem to be incubating it much at all anymore. It’s probably a good thing, since it would be at a serious disadvantage against its much bigger siblings in trying to get food.
In watching these chicks I’ve come to the realization that song birds grow fast! At 6 days old, the 3 oldest chicks are easy 3 times the size they were when they hatched out. Of course, they have to grow fast since many birds migrate and they only have a short amount of time to put on weight and build strong enough feathers to help them on their journey. While Northern Flickers aren’t migratory, at least not where I live, they also have a short window to mature and become independent before the winter months.
Mom and dad have been sharing feeding and brooding duties over the last week. While it’s difficult to tell what’s on the menu, a Northern Flicker’s diet is primarily made up of ants (that’s one good reason to leave that ant colony in your backyard alone instead of dousing it with toxic chemicals). As soon as mom or dad’s shadow appears at the nestbox’s entry hole, the chicks perk up and start loudly chittering. It’s been said that this chittering sound is meant to imitate the sound of a hive of bees in order to deter predators from raiding the cavity.
One interesting thing I had never seen before setting up this bird cam occurs shortly after the chicks have been fed. The parent pokes or nips at the chicks, especially their hindquarters. It took me a bit to realize that this nipping was meant to prod the chicks to defecate. Because Northern Flickers and other cavity nesters live in an enclosed space and the chicks can’t easily relieve themselves over the side of the nest, the cavity would soon be overwhelmed by feces if there wasn’t a way to dispose of them. Therefore, the parents will solicit the chicks’ feces and then either consume the fecal packet or fly it away from the nest.
That’s one way of nipping the cleanliness problem in the butt…er, bud!
On the ground info about Colorado nature and wildlife.