As spring arrives there is an abundance of activity from our avian friends. Bonnie and Clyde, the bluebirds, are nesting in the same hole in a tree that they had used the previous two years. The Oak titmice actually used the bluebird box that we had put up close to us at the table in the north yard. However, the first shock of the spring was that we had another pair of bluebirds nesting on the south side of the house!
One of this pair was probably an offspring of Bonnie and Clyde. While I can see Bonnie and Clyde’s nest opening in a silk oak from where I sit in the north yard, this other bluebird nest was in a pepper tree that was situated so I could see the opening from where I sit in the living room, way cool! The bluebird nesting box that was being used by the titmice was even closer to me than the nests of the bluebirds were when I was in the north yard at the table.
Of course, there were other bird species that were also nesting. My Bewick’s wren, Buddy and its mate, were feeding nestlings and a second Bewick’s wren was also feeding young, although it appeared to be a single parent. I say that because it never came in to feed with another of its species. The White-breasted nuthatches and two California towhee pairs were also feeding hatchlings.
While Buddy the Bewick’s wren would come to hand, its mate would not. This resulted in my just throwing live mealworms onto the table for them to pick up. I also would throw the worms onto the ground when the birds would be foraging there. The single wren also would come to the table to get worms, though not from the hand.
Our dear Tow-tow, the California towhee, and its mate, would come to the top of the table to get worms for their brood. The other towhee pair only came by and fed on the ground. Tow-Tow and its mate nested south of us and the other towhee pair nested east. The Oak titmice were nesting twenty feet away from our table in the bluebird box. One of the titmice, Tweeter, was a hand feeder. Both these parents would feed at the table for nuts and dried mealworms. Tweeter had been with us for a few years already while its mate was new.
And then we had our nuthatches on top of that! They were mostly nut feeders, not that they wouldn’t scarf up a worm in a New York second, let alone a minute. The nuthatches both came to the table to feed on pieces of walnut that I would throw out to them and would also eat the bird kibble, which is my name for the dried mealworms that were placed in ground feeders. They also received a live mealworm from me on occasion. Wow, that has us helping out two Western bluebird families, two California towhee families, two Bewick’s wren families, one family of Oak titmice and the White-breasted nuthatch brood. That makes eight bird families that we are helping feed!
The California towhees, Tow-Tow, and its mate, were the first to have fledgelings thts spring. They showed up at the feeders with three fine looking youngsters.
Buddy and its mate seemed to have fledged three. The other single Bewick’s wren’s fledgelings I never really got a count on, as the mother never brought them in close enough. The same held true for the towhees on the east side of us. It was a very busy area here at the time so maybe they weren’t comfortable enough to bring them in like Tow-Tow did with hers.
The Oak titmice, using the bluebird box, did their thing so quietly and quickly that they had their hatchlings fledged before I realized that I had never took a photo of them at the nesting box! How shameful of me! I did, however, get a photo of their nest. Just as an excuse, the bluebird box is behind me, back to my left, and when I’m sitting at the table and there is so much going on here at all times, I failed to notice their activity. At least I had a count on their fledgelings, which was three. The White-breasted nuthatches brought two young in tow when they came through feeding. There were young everywhere we looked! Bigger things were still to happen, however.
Early into the feeding of Bonnie and Clyde’s first brood of this spring, another male shows up to help with the feeding. That is not so unusual and we had seen it before (see essay “A Bluebird Bonding Continued…”). Clyde was a little aggressive towards this new male, however he did not chase it off entirely because he had mouths to feed in his nest and this new male was, after all, helping to feed the young. Within a week and a half, before this brood has fledged, Clyde disappears! I did not know the reason for this departure. The new male helped Bonnie fledge three youngsters from that brood. Within a couple of weeks the new male is aggressively chasing off the new bluebirds and feeding Bonnie food because she has started making some more eggs to lay and needs the food. Apparently this new male will be the father of this second clutch.
I was also putting out bird kibble for the bluebirds on the south side of the house. They did very well and fledged four youngsters. Because of the upheaval with Bonnie and Clyde’s first brood on the north side, they also seemed to pick up a fledgeling dispersed from them.
Within a week or so our beloved towhee Tow-Tow stops showing up, just like that! Right after that I notice that I am only seeing three titmice coming by now instead of the five we had at first. One is definitely Tweeter because he feeds from my hand, and the other two appear to be fledgelings. Also at this time the second brood of Bonnie and her new mate are fledged and they are being fed up in the oaks. The main thing that happened during this time frame that might explain things was when a Cooper’s hawk alighted in a large oak limb some fifty feet away from me. I thought it had landed awkwardly and continued watching it. It suddenly started plucking feathers of a bird! It had the bird in its talons when it landed and that caused the awkwardness.
I made note of where the feathers were landing on the other side of the fence so that I could gather them and identify what species it might be. Within a few minutes the hawk leaves and I go round up the feathers. Upon identification they belong to a Oak titmouse. Could this be how we were losing our birds?
Bonnie is still feeding her second brood at this point and then something strange happens. The calls of the fledgelings when Bonnie went up to feed had stopped. Not only that, she was returning to the table with the worms still in her mouth, having to eat them herself. Finally, she disappeared herself within a few days! That was a whole lot of birds to lose in a short period of time. Could the Cooper’s be the culprit? If it would eat a tiny titmouse it would surely take a fat, slow flying bluebird fledgeling, that’s for sure. We have a lot of Cooper’s here and as a result I have seen a few kills (see essay “Predators and Prey”), so it is highly possible. Also, I do not see any animal giving up on a habitat that contains lots of food. Oh well, I’ll never know.
So that I could keep an eye on the feeders on the south side of the house, I moved them to the patio on the east side where I could purvey them. With this placement, I could better keep the ground squirrels from eating the bird food, which they had been doing.
All the remaining bluebirds had now formed one flock. I was using four food dishes at this point. Two south of the table in the north yard and two just west of it. Animals pay attention to what other animals are doing, especially when it comes to eating. Last winter we had a couple of birds come to the feeders because they had observed the other birds feeding. We would get some Yellow-rumped warblers to come in with the bluebirds and we finally had the Northern mockingbird come down from the oaks to feed also. I fully expected the mockingbird to be around this spring, however it never showed, which surprised me a bit. Anyway, we did pick up one more bird that I was interested in, a California thrasher!
Actually, we picked up four thrashers, both parents and two fledgelings. I named the parent thrashers Slasher and Dasher. Slasher, for that long curved beak that they use to forage in the duff, and Dasher for the way they run along the ground. They seem to run more than a roadrunner does! The thrashers are extremely shy brush birds. Any attempt to throw them food previously only resulted in scaring them away. It was nice to have a drawing card to finally attract them closer. While we lost some birds, Bonnie, Clyde and Tow-Tow, which was shocking to say the least, we have gained others this spring. It is said the only constant in life is change. Life is always changing. Life is also tenuous at best here on this planet. That is the way it is in nature. New relationships will form and others will end. What I look forward to is that the experiences never end, only some of the characters change.
Your’s in Nature,