Saturday, November 7, 2015

Rental Properties Are for the Birds! Bluebirds and Orioles

  I am just getting around to writing this story about my summer of 2015. It seems appropriate since on November 5th, it almost seemed as though summer just ended. A cold front has just come through after 4 days of sunny 70 degree weather. Actually it was 3 non consecutive days of 70 degrees. There was a 69 degree day in that 4 day stretch. Today temperatures will only get to about 50 degrees and there is a stiff gusty northwest wind providing a chill. But it is November; this is expected. Fifty degrees is really not that bad at all. So I will summarize one of the best stories of my summer and also provide some photos to illustrate.
     Some of my readers know that I am a bird watcher and a bird lover. This last spring and early summer I was deeply involved in trying to manage my bird properties. I did a brief breeding count on my property in June and reached the sum total of  20 pairs of birds nesting on my approximate 3 1/2 acre piece of land including the Lake Michigan bluff. These birds were known to be nesting on my property by observing them collecting nesting material and following where they took the material, or by directly observing the nest either in bushes, chimney, light fixture, or nest box. I have 5 specific bluebird houses in function, 3 wren boxes, one chickadee box, and a tall pole of 8 purple martin boxes to which I have never been able to attract martins even with fake birds perched there or by playing recordings of their calls. We had three pairs of robins, 3 pairs of wrens, a cardinal pair, a tree swallow pair, a pair of mourning doves, two pairs of catbirds, chimney swifts ( I don't know how many pairs), bank swallow, a pair of red bellied woodpeckers on property, and chickadees and white breasted nuthatch nearby, of course house sparrows,  and my special  treat this year -- the bluebirds and the northern oriole as close neighbors to each other and to we human residents.
Robins raised two broods on our downspout immediately adjacent to front door.

Empty robin nest from another pair in arbor vitae adjacent to our garage.

One of my 3 wren houses, occupied in the photo.
     It is with the nest boxes that I have had the most difficulty this year. For some reason only one pair of my wrens agreed to use the wren nest box. Three other pairs were insisting on using my blue bird houses. I evicted them several times until finally I found a wren nest with 3 tiny white speckled eggs in it. I couldn't bring myself to evict them so there went one of my bluebird houses, taken over by the wrens that I allowed to continue with their nesting process. I was evicting wrens constantly from the far front bluebird house and occasionally also house sparrows. I was also evicting wrens from a house closer to our front door, but bluebirds often didn't like this house because it has a predator guard on it (a block of wood which significantly deepens the hole.) So I was less careful about my property control there. With all the fighting with wrens and sparrows, I decided to erect a brand new bluebird house on a rise very close to my back patio. I kept evicting wrens from it faithfully and the final time the wren's pile of sticks had a nice grass liner to the nest. That female was very ready to lay eggs and I had evicted her. Well, as is characteristic of wrens, she was very ingenious. She decided to make a quick nest inside the metal birdseed feeder that I was not filling so far this summer. Nice digs! Certainly dry and the feeding hole would not admit any other species except a little wren. That pair went on to fledge a complete brood from the feeder. Within 2 days of their fledging, the male had "married" another female and was setting up a nest in one of my wren boxes that I had moved closer to that feeder to try to get the wrens to use it. The first female was no doubt still tending to the first brood. What do you think? Is 10 feet far enough away from your exwife's house to set up your mistress housekeeping? Anyway I did have this and one other wren house now performing in the way they were intended. 
The metal bird feeder, one wren pair chose for nesting.

      Meanwhile house finches have used our back porch light fixture for nesting for several years. My husband evicts them by pulling out the nest. They rebuild it within days. Finally for the last brood last year and this year I have just let them live there. We almost never use that fixture so I am not worried about fire. The female is very brave. She sits on the nest even if I come in and out of the back screened porch. If I exit on the back stoop she does fly away but without any verbal complaints. And she comes right back to continue her rearing of her babies. I admire bravery in birds and I allow them to continue in this nest.

     Since I was having so much trouble keeping my bluebird houses free for them, I decided this year to buy a new house and mount it close to my back patio. If I could attract a pair there, we would be able to closely watch them from our picnic table and from the house. My other bluebird houses are at some distance from the house. I put up the house with predator guard and purchased some meal worms from my favorite store, Wild Bird Unlimited. I set up my pretty dish meal worm feeder right next to the blue bird house to really tempt Mr. and Mrs. Bluebird.
The bluebird house in the center with its predator guard. This is the view from our patio.

Mealworms in a bowl that will tempt the bluebirds.

Note the female bluebird in flight right center of photo.
     And it worked! The female who often makes the nestbox choice soon found the house near the mealworm dish. Her mate soon joined her and they began slowly to build a nest. I was able to observe all of the bluebird behavior that I love, including the good night greeting every evening at dusk during the incubation period. The male always comes the last thing to the hole to say good night to his mate. Sometimes he brings her a nice insect morsel. Then he goes off to roost for the night. And in about 14 days we had these lovely 5 baby bluebirds in the nest, here just beginning to show some blue fuzzy down.

The male guarding his nestbox.while hunting insects from it.
Five tiny bluebirds just starting to show some blue fuzz.
     Meanwhile I had spotted a pair of orioles that were sticking around much longer than usual and still coming to my orange slices and grape jelly feeder. I began to suspect that maybe they were considering nesting in our area. I returned to Wildbirds Unlimited to replenish my mealworms and told them I suspected I might have a nesting pair of orioles. The sales person talked me into purchasing some white polyester nesting material that the orioles would use to make their nest in addition to grasses and stems. I put the nesting material in a kitchen whisk and hung it near the oranges. It was just an hour or so before I witnessed the female oriole taking some of the nesting material. I followed her and saw her enter a lower branch of our big cottonwood tree, actually almost just above the bluebird box. She made several more trips that day and also took some of the mealworms. I was able to get a somewhat obstructed view of the oriole nest in among the large cottonwood leaves. As the days passed, I took some photos.. Interestingly the side of the woven basket shaped nest toward our house must have been completed before I put out the nesting material. It was made of grass and natural material. The side toward the lake which was still hanging free was mostly white with polyester. I continued to feed grape jelly and daily mealworms throughout the incubation and feeding of the nestlings for the orioles. The bluebirds never found the mealworms where I had moved them near the oranges. But they had plenty of insects all summer and were often seen hunting in our yard and in the neighbor's yards.
Right in the center of the photo, note the grassy bulbous shaped nest with cottonwood "cotton" around it.

The other side of the nest shows as a whitish woven area amongst the leaves right in center of photo. 
     The summer passed as we watched the bluebirds and the orioles feeding their young. Interestingly, the male oriole if around the nest branch at all would not let any other birds perch in that branch. He chased away even mourning doves and grackles, and even a crow who are all very much bigger than he is. And yet often the male bluebird perched in that cottonwood branch to keep track of his nest and to hunt insects in the grass below. I never saw the male oriole chase away the bluebird. It was as though they acknowledged that they were neighbors and both there for the same reason.

     I was able to get some photos of the orioles at my feeders  but none near their nest. They were always very quick at entering the nest, avoiding calling attention to themselves. During most of the oriole incubation period and nestling period, the two orioles were silent when near the nest. Only near what I had determined was near fledging time for the oriole young, did I hear them calling near the nest, probably trying to coax the young to leave the nest. 

The male oriole with his beak full of mealworms to take to the nestlings.

I continued feeding grape jelly throughout and only put out mealworms once or twice a day.

Male checking out the feeding station.

Female checking out the feeding station.
        Meanwhile back with the bluebirds, these youngsters have really grown. They are getting close to fledging size. This was the last time I opened the box, on about day 11 or 12 because I didn't want to force early fledging. These youngsters now recognize that my opening the box is not their mother or father. They don't open their mouth expecting to be fed and they actually hunker down and stay very still.

Day 12 after hatching.
      On the day that I had calculated the bluebirds would fledge (about day 14), I sat on my patio for hours trying to catch a first flight. Nothing happened; the mother went to the hole and tried to persuade the babies; the father stood on top of the box and leaned over and called to them. But nothing happened. I was sure it would happen the next day. I was unable to spend a lot of time on the patio that day due to other commitments and I was sure I was missing the event. But the next morning the babies were still in the box. I didn't open it, but I could see at least some still there moving around inside. It was not until the next day, 2 days after my calculated fledging date, that finally the nest was empty. I was unable to catch any of the first flights, but below is a photo of perhaps the most precocious of babies sitting boldly in the hole. But it took a long time for these reluctant little ones to leave the protection of that cozy nest.

Mom tries to persuade them.

Daddy speaks to them from the top of the nestbox.

One precocious youngster looking out, but not flying.
     After fledging, the bluebirds hang around the area for a while. I would hear the adults calling. There have been years when the whole family is seen digging in our eaves for insects under the fall leaves, or getting a drink from our birdbath or even from my water feature (some pots with water lilies and fish.) But this year after a week or so they disappeared.

     I never saw the orioles fledge. I did sit near my jelly and mealworm feeders to try to catch the orioles bring their young to teach them to visit the feeders. I sat at this cafe table and chairs for several stretches. The orioles had moved to some tall trees in the front yard but the adults were still coming to the feeders. When I followed them to the front yard, I could hear the young birds begging. I did catch one adult feeding a youngster among the branches of my magnolia tree which stands adjacent to my feeding station. There is a photo here of this event. That is the best that I could do.

Here's where I sat to try to photograph the orioles at the feeding station to the right.  Very pleasant place to wait.

Left center is an adult male oriole leaning down and feeding a youngster. See the open mouth and black head.
     What an exciting summer for the birds! I am closing with a few photos of my flowers among which I kept track of all these bird families.

White peonies putting on a show, late June. Everything was a couple weeks late this year.

More pink and deep red peonies.

Blue, yellow, apricot, and white irises that I didn't stake up. They provide an informal look to the garden.

Mauve foxglove always produce a showy focal point.

Alium blooms mixed with snow on the mountain blooms.

Several "Globemaster" alium standards.

Blue iris at dusk. I have a white iris re-blooming now in November. Also clematis.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Ann for the delightful journey. Sharleen