I mentioned in a previous essay that the adult bluebirds, Bonnie and Clyde, had not pushed off their young from from spring of 2016 until late January of this year. By early spring Bonnie was begging Clyde for food with wing shakes and open mouth just like a fledgeling. She does this because she is growing eggs for the nest and needs the extra food. Once she lays the eggs Pops (the name I normally call Clyde) will feed her while she incubates them. We had been watching them as they refurbished the nesting cavity that they used last year (see essay ” A Western Bluebird Bonding”) and we were excited at the prospects! While incubating the eggs Bonnie will leave the nest from time to time and feed at the table. One thing is certain however: if she is stacking worms in her mouth, she has hatchlings!
They made countless journeys to the nest over the next three weeks or so to feed the little ones inside the hole in the tree. One morning it was different. The parents were not flying to the hole but up into the far reaches of the oaks. The young have fledged! The young will stay up in the leafy branches of the oaks for their safety until they become proficient flyers. We knew it would be only a matter of time before they were at the table.
We were curious as to how many young have fledged this spring. The parents had been eating great since they got here over a year ago and we wondered if that would affect the clutch size this year. We only catch glimpses of the young when they are up in the oaks and it is very hard to determine just how many birds you are seeing. Once they start following their parents around on their search for food they will arrive closer and we will get an accurate account.
Arrive they did and soon they started feeding themselves at the table. It was still very hard to get a count of the young at first because they come in and out so quickly. Once they settled down we found that they had three fledgelings, the same as last year. As the fledgelings are maturing and feeding themselves, I notice that Bonnie is doing that little wing shake and open mouth that fledgelings do and Pops is feeding her.
That can mean only one thing, she is having a second brood! Within a few weeks the first brood has been dispersed from the area and Bonnie lays a second clutch of eggs. This was very different than last year, when they kept their young for several months. Last year they did not have a second brood, which is probably why the young got to stay around so long. I would have to say that Bonnie fed pretty well here since she is having a second clutch. Food resources play a big role in clutch size and number of broods that a bird has. As the bluebirds were feeding this second brood they received some help from one of their sons from the previous nesting effort of 2016.
Year old bluebirds can sometimes end up with a part of their parents’ territory when they move out. If one of the young from the previous year have a nest failure or fail to nest they will sometimes help their parents to care for this years youngsters. One of the sons from 2016 showed up with a female to help out with the second brood. Probably because there was no genetic investment on her part the new female only stayed for a couple of weeks before she flew the coup, so to speak. The son, who I called junior, stayed the course.
As the young started to show up by our feeding area I tried to get a count on the youngsters. At times I would be able to count at least four fledgelings. That would be more than the previous broods that they have had with us. Wait, is that a fifth fledgeling that I just saw? Yes it is, Bonnie laid five eggs! Wow, Bonnie must be eating extremely well!
With having to feed five young this time I am sure that Bonnie and Clyde appreciated the help from their son. We felt that we had also played a dig part in the process. So much so that we really felt like grandparents! When the second brood started to feed more on their own I moved the feeding dishes up onto the table to bring them closer to us.
At the table the birds are feeding only three feet away from us. It’s up close and personal. It does take some time for the little ones to get used to us. Even with their parents flying to our hands for worms. The only time that the young birds would always come in without fear is when Pops comes in to the table. Then it is a bit like Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds”. OK, OK, I exaggerate. However, it is so cute when all five youngsters fly in at once upon his arrival and immediately attack the food! What a dad!
At this point the young still have their streaky breast and upper back feathers. They are, however, showing the color blue that will show their individual sex as bluebirds. The males have more cobalt and the females are more of a sky blue. The problem is trying to get a clean look at them when they are all present. At first I was able to count two males and two females. Eventually I was able to recognize three male fledgelings feeding together at the table with us. OK then, three males and two females it is. The first brood this year was sent away so quickly that I never had a chance to determine their sex.
As the summer wore on and the young bluebirds became more accustomed to us at the table, I noticed that one of the male fledges seemed to be very interested in the mealworms that we were feeding to it’s parents. Which is a bit strange to me because the son, Junior, who came back to help the parents this year never showed any interest in taking a worm from our hand in the one year plus that he was with us.
So what the heck, I offered him a worm and by golly he took it! When I offer worms by hand at the table I start out by offering a worm while my arm is lying on the table so that they can just hop over to it rather than fly over. They seem a lot more open to approaching this way in the beginning. I decided to name him Bright Boy, since he had the sense to figure out what was happening. Within a day or two he was flying right to my hand! This feeding of Bright Boy went on for a couple of weeks when suddenly I noticed Pops chasing Bright Boy away from the feeding area! Within a few days Bright Boy was never to be seen again. Could this be a territorial dispute by Pops over food resources? I think so. Regardless, it was an interesting and informative breeding season with the bluebirds. I saw different behaviors and aspects of bluebird life that I had not observed previously. I will await the wonders of next years breeding season with much anticipation!
Yours in Nature,