Tag Archives: nesting

Best Laid Plans

It’s only been a few days, but life moves fast when you weigh less than a slice of wheat bread! Ultimately, Mama Chickadee had 6 eggs and on May 6th, 4 tiny little Black-capped Chickadee babies hatched out.

Like with the flickers, at least one of the egg shells was eaten by the female. Birds probably eat egg shells to obtain minerals like calcium. Waste not, want not! Eating leftover egg shells also helps clean up the nest, which is important when space is at a premium, as it is in any cavity.

Both mom and dad chickadee are working hard to feed their new family with sometimes both parents in the box at the same time. At times, the male feeds the female as well. She solicits food by making a high-pitched chattering and shivering her wings. It’s hard to tell what they’re all eating, but it looks like soft-bodied insects, possibly larvae or caterpillars.

The chickadee chicks are a lot quieter than the flicker chicks. Sometimes they don’t perk up for a feeding until the parent makes a soft “dee dee” call.

Sometime late on May 6th or maybe early in the morning on May 7th, a 5th chick hatched. Sadly, the chick didn’t even last a full 24 hours. Sensing something wrong, Mama Chickadee managed to pick the chick’s body up and flew away with it somewhere. She probably dropped the body somewhere a good distance from the nest to keep predators away from her doorstep.

As of today, there’s still one unhatched egg in the nest. I suspect it’s infertile and won’t hatch. I’ll be watching to see when the parents remove it. It might take awhile though; the unhatched flicker egg stayed in the nest up until fairly close to fledging.

 

 

 

Return of the Black-capped Chickadees

I put up a new chickadee box this year. It’s deeper than the previous one so the camera fits inside the box rather than a hole having to be cut through the roof of the box to accommodate it. Almost immediately after putting it up, a pair of Black-capped Chickadees started checking it out, so I’m glad I got it up before April!

Like with my flicker box, I put a handful of wood shavings in the chickadee box. This simulates a natural cavity. While they’re not nearly the pecking powerhouses that woodpeckers are, chickadees can and do excavate their own cavities if the wood is soft enough. However, chickadees are considered secondary cavity nesters, moving into cavities after the original tenants have moved on.

A Black-capped Chickadee dropping wood shavings away from its nest. Photo by Jamie Simo.

Much smaller than Northern Flickers, and more vulnerable to competition for nests and to predators, chickadees won’t just dump wood chips right outside their front door like a flicker will. Both male and female chickadees take a beakful of chips and fly a short distance away, scattering them. This prevents rivals/predators from following the wood chips like a trail of breadcrumbs straight to the nest site.

On March 31st, after they had “excavated” the wood chips, the female chickadee went to work building her nest. Only the female Black-capped Chickadee builds a nest, which she does starting with a thick layer of cushy moss. Following the moss, she began to bring in softer material. I recognized dog fur and, I believe, some leftover fluff from when my milkweed went to seed last year. With each new addition to the nest, mama chickadee would build up the nest cup and then wriggle her body down into it, conforming it to her body.

Like I mentioned, chickadees are small and vulnerable. They have little defense against the invasive House Sparrow, a species known to kill native birds and then take over their nest cavity. To combat that possibility, I put a metal 1 1/8 inch hole guard over the 1 1/4 inch box entrance. Black-capped Chickadees are small enough to still fit through the hole, but House Sparrows aren’t.

Check out this video of mama chickadee’s “snake display” warning away a (likely) House Sparrow intruder. Without the added protection of the hole guard, this display may not have been enough to deter a persistent nest parasite.

The literature I’ve read suggests that it can take up to 2 weeks for a Black-capped Chickadee to finish building her nest, with egg laying following 1-2 days later, but this particular female seemed to take a bit longer. It wasn’t until April 18th that she laid her first egg and, even then, she was still bringing in the occasional bit of fluff to pad out the nest.

Two Black-capped Chickadee eggs on April 19, 2019. Black-capped Chickadee eggs are white speckled with brown and just under an inch long.

I can only assume her first egg was laid on April 18th because Black-capped Chickadees, like many other songbirds, lay an egg a day and I noticed that there were 2 eggs in the nest on April 19th. As of April 21st, there are probably 4 eggs in the nest. Why can’t I tell for certain? Black-capped Chickadees tend to cover their eggs with fur nesting material when they leave the nest so, at the moment, I can only tell for sure that there are 3 eggs in the nest. Going by the fact that they lay 1 egg a day though, that means there should be 4 today.

Black-capped Chickadees, on average, lay between 6 and 8 eggs per clutch, so we could be could be close to incubation (mama chickadee will begin incubating the day before her last egg is laid), or we could still be a few days away. Personally, I hope she goes for a smaller clutch–it’s a pretty small box and I can’t imagine how crowded 8 babies would be–but we’ll soon find out!

 

 

Egg-secution

Well, it’s another year without a successful Northern Flicker brood so I’ve turned off the nest cam stream. I’m not sure what went wrong. As I posted, the Northern Flicker pair laid their first egg on June 13th. A mid-June nest attempt is late, but from what I’ve read, flickers will nest anytime between March and June.

At first, things seemed to be going well. The female flicker did skip a day laying after the first egg, which can happen when there’s bad weather (usually if it’s cold and/or rainy/snowy, which wasn’t the case here), but then she reliably laid another 3 eggs over the next 3 mornings. Below is a video of her laying the second egg. The interesting thing with this female is that it was so obvious when she was laying her eggs. With the successful pair from 2016, I could only tell an egg had been laid when she got up off of them.

Then, the same day the female laid her 4th egg, the male ended up crushing 3 of the 4 eggs. I don’t know if he did it on purpose or if he was just clumsy. He certainly seemed not to be taking too much care jumping into the box! But he was also very vigilant about keeping the eggs moving rather than sitting in one spot, which keeps them viable. After the eggs were destroyed, I saw him eat bits of the remaining shells. Birds sometimes eat their eggs if they have a vitamin deficiency. Is this a clue to what happened?

After the big mishap, the female laid a new second egg, but later that same day either she or the male destroyed that egg and the remaining egg. Here’s video of one of the flickers removing the final egg after the female leaves the box.

I have a couple of hypotheses about why the birds destroyed/removed the eggs, but nothing solid. Perhaps it was too late and too hot in the season for the eggs to be viable, which the birds recognized. Or maybe one or both of the birds were sick or too inexperienced to be fit parents. Whatever the reason, there are no new flicker babies this year.

Egg-cellent

The past week, the female Northern Flicker has been hanging out in and around the flicker box regularly. Since female birds of many (most?) bird species are the ones to choose the nesting spot, this was a great sign. Well, what do my eyes see this morning but a tiny little egg in the bottom of the box!

Northern Flickers nest anytime between March and June so this pair is a little on the later end of nesting, but still within the usual time frame. I have no concrete idea why they are nesting so late, but it’s possible it could have something to do with pressure from European Starlings or maybe their previous nest attempt earlier in the season failed. Whatever the reason, hopefully, despite the hot temperatures we’ve been getting, and and will no doubt continue to see moving into full-bore summer, the nest will do all right.

Now that the nesting has truly started, I’m starting a new nest attempt at Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s NestWatch site. NestWatch is a great resource for researchers to learn more about breeding birds from citizen science data. Citizen science is immeasurably important because it would be impossible for scientists to collect as much data as the average person can provide on their own.

If you find a nest this season, you can record it on NestWatch too. Just remember to follow the nestwatching code of conduct to make sure you’re not doing any harm to the birds.

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!

 

 

Unexpected Visitors

The chickadee nestbox cam has been up for a little more than 2 weeks and, except for a brief stop-in on that first day, no chickadees have checked out the box. But that may be because a Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis) seems to have laid a claim to it instead and, despite their size (about 4.5 inches), Red-breasted Nuthatches are fiercely territorial.

Female Red-breasted Nuthatch on bird feeder. Note the washed-out look to her head stripes. Photo by Jamie Simo.

Red-breasted Nuthatches, so-named because of their habit of jamming seeds and nuts into crevices and hammering them open with their long, slightly upturned bills, are active  little birds with big personalities. Both sexes have rusty underparts, blue-grey upper parts, a short tail, and black and white stripes on the head, though females are a little duller in color than the males. Their calls are often said to sound like the toots of little tin horns.

Most Red-breasted Nuthatches in Colorado are drawn to higher elevations where there are more conifers, but this little guy appears enamored with my nestbox with its nearby supply of bird seed and suet. Even after emptying the wood shavings out of the box, he returns to it regularly many times a day calling for his mate and even drumming intermittently like a woodpecker. So far I haven’t seen her enter the box, though occasionally she has clung to the entrance hole and chittered quietly to him.

 

Much of the literature I’ve read says Red-breasted Nuthatches rarely use nestboxes. This may be because they’re able to excavate their own cavities in decaying wood. Without many dead trees in my neck of the woods, however, the odds of this pair choosing my nestbox may be greater. That is, of course, if the female decides she likes the neighborhood; female Red-breasted Nuthatches, like with most other songbirds, get final say on the nesting location.

If they do decide to nest, I can expect between 4 and 7 (6 on average) eggs to be laid in a nest lined with grass and bark and incubated exclusively by the female. A big hint that the birds are nesting will be if they start spreading conifer resin around the entrance hole of the box, which is thought to deter predators.