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Friday, July 12, 2013

Random bits


I've been keeping you up to date throughout the summer on my nesting pair of Eastern Bluebirds. This week, I'm sorry to report, tragedy struck.

The female had been brooding their latest clutch of four eggs for more than a couple of weeks and it was past time for them to hatch. Early in the week, I noticed the pair was acting strangely, i.e., they were not following their normal routine. Birds are creatures of habit so I knew something was wrong.

I started watching the box more carefully. Obviously, the female was still brooding, but she would leave the nest often and, when she did, frequently the male would fly to the box and look in. At first I thought maybe the eggs had hatched and he was delivering food, but I noticed he wasn't actually going into the box as he would have had to to deliver food to newly hatched nestlings. He was just perching at the hole and looking in and then flying to the nearby fence. Then, on Tuesday, I noticed the birds were not going to the box. In fact, they had disappeared from the yard. Later, I checked the box and found that the eggs had not hatched.

I think I know what happened. The first week after all the eggs were laid was our hottest week of the summer. Several days had temperatures of more than 100 degrees. The bluebird box is in full sun all day and the temperature inside the box must have been like an oven. I noticed the female was often sitting with her head sticking out the door, beak open, trying to get some air. I even trained my sprinkler so that it would spray the back of the box on a couple of occasions to try to give her some relief. But I'm sure the high heat must have killed the tiny embryos inside the eggs. (No, I didn't have the heart to open one up and examine it. I'm just not that good a scientist, I guess.)

I take comfort in the knowledge that this pair had already successfully raised and fledged two broods of five chicks each this year. They did their best for the third brood, but the weather defeated them. Maybe Mother Nature decided they needed a rest.


Surprise guest:

I thought I had just the one female Ruby-throated Hummingbird in my yard. This week I found out there were two. I discovered the second one when I saw the two of them tussling over the flame acanthus blossoms that are such a favorite with hummers.

Then, another surprise. There was an adult male here, too! He seemed to prefer the cannas and the hamelia blossoms like the ones in the picture I showed you on Wordless Wednesday.

All three of the birds visit the blossoms around the yard, but I haven't seen any of them at the one feeder I've left up for them this week. Obviously, they prefer natural nectar to my homemade kind.


Predator alert:    

The Cooper's Hawk has continued to be active around the yard this summer. Just about every week I see him at least a couple of times chasing the birds from the feeder, but I've never seen him catch one. Until this week. Well, actually, I still can't really say that I saw him catch that dove. It happened so fast...

I was watching the birds at the backyard feeders late one afternoon when this brown bullet crossed my field of vision and about fifty or so birds, most of them White-winged Doves, exploded into the air in panic. The bullet, which turned out to be the hawk, made a seemingly impossible hard right turn to chase several of the birds into my neighbor's yard. It was all a blur - I couldn't really tell what was happening. Then I saw a puff of pale feathers floating toward the ground and I knew the hawk had made a strike.

I peered over the fence at the neighbor's yard to try to see where the hawk had gone with his prize, but I never located him. Nevertheless, I'm pretty sure he ate well that night.


Molting time:

It's that time of year when all of the birds start looking raggedy and threadbare. It's molting time again. The adults have mostly finished their nesting duties and now they are dropping their feathers to get ready for shiny new ones. Over the next several weeks, we'll be seeing birds in various stages of undress as they begin to grow new feathers to get ready for the coming seasons, and, as a side benefit, as they drop some of their insulation, they'll be able to handle the heat better.

This Tufted Titmouse taking a sip from my little backyard fountain shows the typically disheveled appearance of the molting songbird.


Birds love sprinklers and no birds love them more than Blue Jays. Late this afternoon I started a sprinkler on a section of my side yard and as I was adjusting it I heard a noise to my right and looked to find a Blue Jay there, practically sitting on my shoulder, with his beak open and his beady eye on me! "Hurry up!" he seemed to be saying. "It's hot out here!"

It is, indeed, hot out there and there's not much relief for the birds, but I'm happy to turn on those sprinklers when I can, as well as keeping the birdbaths and the fountain filled. It's the least I can do to repay them for all the entertainment they provide.  

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