This summer has been great for finding birds nests. Each summer I look for them, walking through the green belt and carefully scanning each tree. I follow birds foraging in the undergrowth hoping that they will lead me to a nest, but they always artfully lose me in the trees. They are very good at what they do, using their small size and camouflage to their best advantage. This summer we were lucky enough to have two birds nests right in the yard, in two bird houses in Mom’s garden. One was a pair of Tree Swallows, and the other was a pair of Boreal Chickadees. There was also a nest being built on the shelf in the outdoor shower, but whoever was building it decided on a different place to nest and quit building halfway through. I suspect it was a Swainson’s Thrush, as there was one nesting in the same spot when we first moved here, six years ago. There were at least seven males singing in and around the yard all spring, this year being one of the best years for Swainson’s Thrush that I have seen.
You can click here to read more about the Swainson’s thrush and to hear its song.
I check my bird houses regularly starting in mid May to see if I have any inhabitants, but I have not found anything. This year, I had waited until June before giving up hope that anything would move into the boxes, me being pessimistic. Then on June 4th I happened to glance inside the chickadee house in the garden and noticed a feather sticking up inside. I looked again, shocked, before registering the pair of shiny dark eyes peering up at me from the darkness and the fur rising up and down in steady breaths. What ever it was jumped up at my face from in the house and I jerked back, slamming my hand against the entrance, automatic reaction taking hold. Something soft and firm hit my hand from the inside. I stood stunned, my hand still pressed firmly against the front of the house, when I realized that the small furry thing was actually a chickadee, and that I had just slammed it back into the house and blocked its escape. Poor thing!! I’m sure I didn’t feel nearly as stunned as she did. I took my hand away and backed up a distance from the house, freeing the mother Boreal Chickadee from inside. She flitted out and landed on the fence beside the house to glare at me for a few minutes, before disappearing back into the warm, safe darkness of her nest. I didn’t get a scolding, the glare said it all.
She laid six eggs, and raised 5 chicks. Peeking in the secret hatch I built into the back of the house one day I was thrilled to find a flock of tiny chicks, not a day old in the nest. They worked as hard as possible to reach up with their huge, bright yellow mouths and beg for food.
I continued watching them grow and get bigger and stronger, but then one day when I peeked in all was still. The chicks had died that day. They lay cuddled up to each other in an eerie stillness. The parents were absent; nothing was moving. When I took them out to examine their tiny, frail bodies their bottoms were abnormally bloated and filled with a whitish pussy-like liquid. They were at different stages, but it was a new development that I had not seen just a few days before. It looked unhealthy… apparently deadly. I kept the chicks so that I could send them to a local scientist for study; perhaps he can tell us what went wrong. We all hope that next year the chickadees decide to move back in and retry their luck. It was sad to lose them.
The Tree Swallows had a similar story. ‘Molly the Swallow’ moved into the yellow house in the garden late in the year with her mate, around mid June. She laid 5 eggs and carefully built her nest using a mix of her own feathers and the feathers that the chickens molted. The chicks hatched and grew very noisy. One night the temperature dropped below freezing (-3C!), and many plants in the garden died. That night was the last night of the swallow chicks lives. Their mom’s body warmth was not enough. That house was not built with cool weather in mind; I used very thin wood and it only had a few nails in it. It was held together mostly with hot glue. This made it airy and cool during hot days, but much too airy and cool in cooler weather. I have taken down the house and intend to make a copy using thicker wood and with better seals.
Two sad and disappointing stories, but we will hopefully be able to use these experiences to create better nest boxes for future families to raise successful broods in.
One evening I was traveling on my Mom’s quad from the Six-Mile River Resort from working as a waitress. I came to an area where I could hear very loud chattering, even over the loud growl of the quad as it speeded down the trail. I came to a halt and took off my helmet in order to better hear whatever was making the strange sound. It turned out to be a female American Three-toed Woodpecker in a nest cavity, telling me off for coming too close!
Her mate swooped in to perch at the top of a dead snag nearby, his yellow crown glowing brightly even in the dusky light. About a week after I discovered them, the chicks that they had in there took off into the big, wide world. A cool thing about this discovery, was that not only had I found a nest (my second American Three-toed Woodpecker nest EVER!), but this species of woodpecker was a species that I had not yet seen this year. A new year bird!
A friendly Chipping Sparrow I noticed at Tagish Bridge had a nest somewhere in the bushes, but I was not able to find it. It was very tame due to the amount of activity in the area, and would pose for me up on top of a sign. Up there it would chatter to me and other local sparrow, while scanning the area surrounding the nest for danger. One evening it was carrying a big, fat, grub that it planned to take to its nest but refused to in my presence.
Before I saw the Chipping Sparrow I saw a female Spruce Grouse sitting on the trail ahead of me on my way to work. I slowed down, hoping that she stayed so I could take a picture, when suddenly Spruce Grouse chicks exploded from the undergrowth! Tiny brown puffballs with wings flew in every direction. I shut the quad off and followed them through the undergrowth, hoping for a photo of the cute youngsters. The mom dashed through the bushes, stumbling and crashing, dragging her wings. It was the first time I had seen a threatened mother grouse display, so I watched for a moment but continued after the chicks. Her next tactic was to do short feints at me. Then she flew up into a tree and called to her chicks, who started flying up to the branches and cheeping quietly back to her. I got a couple of photos after everyone had settled down a bit, then got on my quad and left them. I met a second Spruce Grouse family group not 30 meters down the trail with about the same number of chicks. Here are my best shots of the first family.
My summer of finding nesting birds and fledglings was very successful. If you have any stories and/or photos that you would like to share, then please either comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org . I would love to hear about your finds!
This story is from our nieghbours, Paul and Judy Dabbs. They had a pair of Robins start building a nest on top of a shelf on their front porch entry way. Not wanting the nest right there, Paul and Judy removed the nest materials three times in one day to discourage the Robins from building in that location. The expecting parents were persistant however, and spent all of that night building a beautiful little nest held together with mud. When Paul and Judy got up in the morning to find the finished nest, they decided that the Robins had earned the spot. These photos were taken by Paul and Judy Dabbs. The first is of a parent feeding the nestlings, the second of one of the nestings only minutes after leaving the nest.
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